James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, September 24, 2007

Gold Standard

Precious metals will always be the world's reserve currency. Even though nations do not define their currency by their by their worth in, say, gold, individuals will still buy gold to protect themselves from inflation. The more money a nation's central bank pours into the economy, the less valuable the dollar is, which means the price of everything else rises. Seeing that the dollar is cheap, many individuals start to distrust the national economy and instead of investing in dollar-making opportunities like business expansion, they will buy gold. Unlike paper dollars, gold isn't that easy to find or produce. When the central bank prints so many dollars as to be nearly worthless, those who are able will start to use gold as their currency.

A gold standard would seemingly prevent inflation and a dollar collapse; more dollars would be printed up only as more gold is found. Greater production through the division of labor would cause prices of goods and services to fall, which makes them more affordable to more people, which expands markets. Each dollar we earn would make us wealthier, and each dollar we spend would get us more stuff.

I don't know how we would restore a gold standard. Do we just start using the current world market price - a dollar is worth 1/730th an ounce of gold? What if that price is actually too low, and there's not enough supply of gold to meet the demand at that price? If you had $730 and wanted to buy an ounce of gold, but all the gold was already bought up, then gold is really worth more than $730/oz. This wouldn't be a gold standard, it would be gold price-fixing.

And it does appear the price of gold is too low relative to supply and available currency. What if we divided the current supply of gold in Fort Knox and other U.S. government-owned gold, and divide it by the total number of dollars in circulation?

Let's round the numbers and say the U.S. has over 8,000 metric tons of gold. That's around 17,500,000 pounds, and around 280,000,000 ounces. There are around $12,500,000,000,000 U.S. dollars in the world. That's around 45,000 U.S. dollars for every ounce of U.S. gold. Giving myself wide latitude for rounding numbers, any way you look at it gold would be worth tens of thousands of dollars per ounce, not $730.

Let's consider instead all the gold ever mined, 125,000 tonnes. That's about 15 times more than the U.S. stock alone, so measuring the standard by the world supply would lead to about $3000/oz - four times the current market price.

No wonder mainstream politicians aren't interested in going back to the gold standard. There's a tremendous discrepancy between the value of gold in the market, compared to the available currency and gold supply. While gold standard advocates say that our paper money is worthless, this isn't really true as long as almost everyone relies on it. If anything, going to the gold standard would destroy the dollar in fact; prices could "correct" themselves by rising 400%, 1200%, or more.

If there is a smooth way to go back to the gold standard, I'd go for it. Short of that, government budgetary policy should a) prevent inflation, and b) make owning dollars more desirable than owning gold or other hard asset. Even if it remains a fiat currency attached to nothing but the faith of the people in it, it is still in everyone's interest to value the dollar. If we see the gold price go down, we will see greater investor confidence and a stronger economy.


  1. Anonymous12:50 PM PDT

    Hey, great article except for one thing. Last time we had a precious metal standard (prior to 1913 when the Fed was created) we didn't just use gold. We also used silver, nickel and copper.

    All these other metals are inherently scarce due to the cost of their mining and refining, all are intrinsically valuable due to demand by industry and the value of all are determined by the open market.

    A garbage bag full of empty beer cans will get you more than a dollar these days by redemption value or weight.

    The author wants a smooth transition. I don't think we're going to have a smooth anything in the USA for a while. I'd be thrilled if we could avert a crash landing.

    And if we can implement any system that is market based rather than controlled by central planners, we'll have a chance to build back on a solid foundation. Any other solution leads to continued darkness.

  2. The currency itself isn’t perfect, but it better than gold backed money.

    Ummm...There is a lot more people in the world now than in 1970s. Especially, a lot more people who actually use money and not live off the land anymore. There is simply isn't enough gold around to spread around the world for everyone. It create are more volatile environment, every bank would have to keep some gold. A plus for bank robbers, because gold can’t be trace especially if melted down to create new pieces. The richest people simply hoard all the gold. Stay you’re one of the richest man in the world, a war occurs, or something happens, and all the gold you had in the bank or Fort Knox is taken. The next day, you’re in poverty. It can’t be insured, because where else are they going to get gold to pay you back? With currency they simple issue new ones to you and if possible cancel the serial numbers to the ones that were stolen. Or print less money on the next batch.

    Good economics run are the quick flow of money. Economic started with bartering, which was a slow way to do business; you had to have an item that I want before I can give you an item that you want. Than with metal coins business was faster, but you had to transport and carry lots of coins. Imagine a country doing business with another country….the transport of tons of coins across the Atlantic. What happens if the ship sink deep deep into the ocean? You can’t replace those coins! And natural supply are limited. With currency there is a natural inflation and the up and down cycles, but it is the government duty to keep the swings of the cycle to slow down and inflation from rising too quickly.

    My theory is that sometime long ago. Ultra-rich, powerful families held huge amount of gold, but as their families grew….they had to horde more gold to maintain their status. You start with one rich family, they had three kids, each kid wants their own mansion, thus they strive to seek and horde certain amount of gold to pay for the mansion and hold their rich powerful status. Thus the middle class and poor class suffer terribly. The pool of gold is less for the poor and middle class, thus the cost of everything goes up! What happens next? Revolution! With currency government simply print more, thus allowing rich growing families to maintain and grow their wealth without revolution on their hands. And allows the middle class and lower class to create businesses and move up on the social economic ladder of material wealth (not internal health).

    It is all a balance…govt that prints too much money in a short time, the trust or the power in each dollar declines and prices of items go up. For example, it is so easy for you to obtain money, the farmer would charge you more for apple, and you wouldn’t mind paying extra. You in turn would charge someone else more…etc. Leading to dollar to become worthless, even toliet paper!

    If govt prints too little money in a short time, the power and trust of the dollar goes up, and the dollar itself becomes a limiting commodity. In an extreme analogy…it is like trying to keep a local town economy functional on only 50 coin pieces or 50 one dollar bills circulation. Prices would also go up because the dollar is worth more even though the numerical cost of the item is the same. You were paying a dollar for that meal yesterday, but today that dollar is much rarer and worth a lot more, you think that restaurant would suddenly lower it price? Psychologically, it easier for humans to raise price slowly than to lower price slowly.
    Sorry for such a long rant.

  3. Gold is much too important to be put
    in the hands of bummint.

  4. Why not a free market in privately-issued currencies? Retailers can post prices in several currencies, or they can post today's conversion factors at the door.

  5. Specie was coined to avoid having to test the metal to determine if it was indeed gold (nitric acid or density measurement), but coins have been shaved and counterfeited. If gold were to again become currency, modern technology would quickly produce a credit card sized gold tester and scale, so we can skip government coinage, and just use the base metal.

    A BB is easy to handle. Its diameter is .175 inches (4.45 mm). Its volume is 4*pie*r**3)/3, or 46.15 cubic millimeters. A cubic millimeter of gold weighs 0.0193 grams. A gold BB would weigh 0.89 grams. At $1,587 per gram ("45,000 U.S. dollars for every ounce of U.S. gold"), a BB of gold would be worth $1,413.

    If you wanted to redeem your dollar bills for gold, the minimum redemption amount would be $1,413.

    No problem with a gold standard as far as I am concerned.

  6. The value of a dollar was pretty stable for over 100 years. However, since 1913, when the Federal Reserve was chartered, the value has fallen by 95 percent. In this year alone (2008) the money supply has been growing at 15 to 18 percent. In a matter of months inflation will go up dramatically from the 5.5% recently reported. The dollar will crash if that continues.

    It will probably be replaced by a new monetary unit, sponsored by the North American Union. Its name will probably be “the Amero.”

    The chances of us switching to gold money are slim. It would take a lot of educating, and plans for living through the crash of the dollar. I can’t think of a smooth transition.

    When gold becomes money again, it should not be called by the name, dollars. It should have no artificial name with a government-set value in gold. Gold should simply be money, with the weight and purity as gold stamped on it by a mint. Furthermore it should be privately produced in a competitive free market.

    Most of it would probably best be kept in secure storage by companies who issue gold cards. Coins small enough to buy a pack of gum are not feasible, so let all trade be done by electronic payment against gold accounts.

    Adam Smith said a free market works as if guided by an invisible hand. I think the invisible hand right now would be moving us to gold money. It would if it were not for government intervention. In order to keep the dollar strong enough to be the world’s main reserve currency, the price of gold has to be kept down.

    Gold would be on its way into thousands of dollars per ounce already if it was not being dumped. We cannot be sure at all about U.S. government gold holdings. Selling the physical gold is not all they are doing. Through key helpers, other central banks and big commercial banks, governments around the world have been short-selling gold and silver. Their game will end at some point, of course. Then the dollar will continue its fall. The end-game is uncertain, but probably involves wars, uniting Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and the conversion of their currencies to a new paper or fiat money called the Amero.

    I am buying gold.

    Good luck, everyone.