I had previously written an article questioning the role of gold. With the Eurozone crisis fresh in our minds, is it time to revisit the idea of a gold standard?
Do we really want currency inflexibility?
To put the idea of a gold standard in context, consider this comment at Pragmatic Capitalism [emphasis added]:
The irony behind the Euro crisis is that it is not at all a condemnation of fiat money. In fact, it is a condemnation on single currency systems such as the gold standard. I have long argued that the mess the EMU created in 1999 with the inception of the Euro was unlikely to survive a serious global recession. This was due to one primary argument. The gold standard and single currency systems have all ended in demise for similar reasons. This was due to their inherent inflexibility and inherent weaknesses imposed on particular trade partners within the currency system.Despite of the problems in the UK, the British must be thanking their lucky stars that they didn't join the eurozone as they have the flexibility to devalue their currency if necessary.
What about a hedge against chaos?
The other classic argument for holding gold is that it is the ultimate store of value during periods of political chaos. Fortunately, most of us haven’t experienced that kind of chaos in our lifetimes, or our parents’ lifetimes, so we are only relying on the theory of gold as an ultimate store of value. Consider this discussion posted by Cassandra does Tokyo, who spoke with someone that came from the former Yugoslavia and had first-hand experience of political chaos [emphasis added]:
Starting with the [now seemingly forgotten] crisis, we talked of many things, before it turned to "Gold", which he volunteered, he thought was dumb. Not that he thought the vaulting price was stupid. He offered no opinion of that. But, he said, the war years were tough. Really tough. (He was not of Serbian descent, as it would happen). He'd seen his friends, he explained, do the smash-n-grab (not literally) thing following the disintegration of what was Yugoslavia, rolling up ill-gotten gains into (amongst other material objects) hoards of gold. Their hedge. Their so-called mad money, for which he said chided them at the time, though to little effect. But, he went on, when things got really dire, there was no market for it. There was no way under the circumstances to reasonably convert the hoards to what one really needed. As a result, the going rate was all over the map, but half-ounce or ounces were commonly traded for sugar and flour in ratios that would make the wealth-hedging gold-bug weep. I listened intently, though it was just an anecdote, but an interesting one nonetheless.So it turns out that gold may not be such a flexible store of value if everything fell apart. Cassandra does Tokyo went on to state that basic necessities such as sugar and petrol (gasoline) would be better stores of value under cirumstances of social chaos:
Viewed from this point, gold is a trade, for ruminating upon my Bosnian acquaintance's anecdote, there is a point - call it the "Oh Fuck moment" beyond which Gold is quite sub-optimal, and sugar, petrol, some vegetable seeds, a goat or two, an alembic, all make seeming better sense. Or, perhaps in the extreme, the best hedge in the event (if you believe in the event) of a breakdown in the rule of law, is to BE the baddest thug, and/or join/align yourself with the meanest thugs around, a paradoxical feedback loop that leads one down a disturbing rathole indeed.
A gold and commodity bubble
Despite all these negatives, I remain a long-term gold and commodity bull. George Soros believes that gold is in a bubble – and I agree. While some have interpreted Soros' comment as gold could collapse at any time, I have a different take. Recall that I wrote before about his belief about recognizing bubbles and to ride the wave of euphoria as a way of making money.
If this were indeed a gold bubble, then I would not be surprised to see bullion top out at between 5K and 10K or more before this is all over. As an indication of bubble conditions, Patrick Chovanec recently wrote that China is catching the gold bug – which is an indication that this gold bull may have a long way to go.
Am I a long-term gold and commodity bull? Yes. Fiat currencies are in decline and hard assets are in a secular bull market, though it will have cyclical ups and downs.
Do I support the idea of bringing back the gold standard? No, that’s a really bad idea.