Let it Shine

Money versus Gold

Some golden thoughts

The dollar, and currency in general, is meant to have three functions: a medium of exchange, a store of value, and a unit of account.

Oddly enough, a bit has the same properties. This would suggest that money, above all else, is information.

Similarly, when contracts and loans are signed, a constantly shifting monetary standard causes distortions at each step that are ultimately paid for with lower quality, longer waiting time, and wasted resources.

Indeed. Or one might say the quality of communication suffers. But here's my first doubt on what you're saying here - is it actually possible, in times that change as rapidly and unpredictably as ours do that monetary stability is unlikely? There are some that say that we're standing on the threshold of a new age, like the transhumanists, there are others who predict doom and gloom, but it seems increasingly likely to me that monetary stability, although desirable, may be the least of our opportunities or problems. If I signed a 50 year contract with a horse buggy firm in 1901 to provide horses for them, just how relevant would have this contract been by 1951? We'd have both been bankrupt a long time before that no matter what the monetary situation would have been. And that's the kind of uncertainty we're really faced with - it's not just that the units of wealth are unreliable, but the context and the components of wealth have also become unreliable. How one navigates a commercial enterprise through times like these is something that's on a lot of people's minds, including my employer's. And although the economy and monetary stability is a concern, it's not the biggest one. Much of what we do may be obsolete in a few years. My factory's product future is doubtful. We're all uncertain.

I'll skip over your well-written and factual account to make a point about gold. There's not enough of it, nor is there enough liquidity in it to be truly effective as a world currency. Let's see - 145,000 tons (gold.org) divided by 6 billion people works out to roughly half a pound a piece. Meanwhile, according to the CIA World Fact book, the GDP of the world is 49 trillion dollars and per capita this works out to $7900. Let's see, 16 oz. to the pound, well, let's say that somewhere around 1,000$ an ounce is where gold should be. Problem 1 we have is that it's somewhere around $393 - now if we're going to have a real gold standard, (which you aren't arguing for), a rather serious correction is going to have to be made.

Problem 2, my main point, is we're obviously not going to be keeping little slivers of gold around with us to fork over every time we want a pop at the 7-11. And, no, universal debit cards are a bit too Big Brotherish for my taste. Obviously, we're going to need something like ... paper money!

And here's the problem with your idea and the hard-line gold standard that more conservative economists have advocated. How do we know the banks and the governments aren't going to cheat by printing up a bit more money than they actually have the gold for, or by various manipulations of bonds and dollars in your scenario? The fact is, we don't and history, even the brief contemporary account you've offered, shows us that banks and governments will inevitably do so. The temptation and the short-term benefits are too great, and of course the long-term is someone else's problem, right?

The real problem with the gold standard or the quasi-gold standard is that it requires a degree of honesty that has yet to be demonstrated by us. Inevitably, as we have done in the past and are doing now, we will create some kind of fiat money that will have an unstable predictable base. And, well, here we are.

I don't have a solution to this problem, except to point out that money, and what it represents, is a product of society and the quality of a society will be inevitably reflected in the quality of its money.