Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Conversation Stemming From Gold and Freedom

I recommended this article about the relationship between gold and freedom to my in-laws in general. The good sister-in-law responded. "This was an excellent article, easy to understand and informative. So is there any of the "gold standard" left in our country to any degree today? and if not, why is it important to buy gold for saving if it doesn't have any set money value, or does it? Why not stock up on food or other precious commodities instead? And the most important question, when and how fast do you think that inflation is going to start rising again?" My way-too-long answer:

Short answer at the bottom.

Nixon officially ended any link to gold in 1971. Foreign countries were allowed to redeem US dollars for gold although American citizens (or individuals of any nationality) weren't. To keep the dollar from falling straight to zero (which it did for a few weeks anyway) he and whoever was actually in charge made a deal with oil producing countries that oil would trade exclusively in dollars, making dollars unofficially backed by oil. This has been the case until the last few years, when some countries decided not to accept dollars for their oil. The list of countries that have made their intentions public might be of interest. Iraq was one of the first, probably because Saddam Hussein was so belligerent and thought he was untouchable. Everyone knows what happened there. Iran is one of the most vocal about ditching the dollar. I don't recall much concern for the rights and freedoms of the terribly oppressed Iranian people until the matter of dollars and oil came up. Venezuela is also on the list, and the US happens to be building seven military bases in Columbia right now. Columbia is next to Venezuela. I probably don't need to fill in many blanks. A short and informative article about the whole mess.

As far as buying gold, I have no idea. It would have been nice to have bought some ten years ago. It doesn't have a set dollar value because the dollar doesn't have a set value. As soon as the oil countries stop using the dollar it will go straight down to zero. It has no actual, inherent value, except the value a piece of paper that size generally has. You can ponder what that value is next time you visit the restroom or need to light a fire. And hopefully those two things aren't going on at the same time. So, if all of your savings are in dollars, someday you will have literally no money. I don't know when that day is. Gary North (I like Gary North) doesn't know either, but he does have some indicators and potential scenarios.

We've been told it's a good idea to have a lot of food stored. We haven't been instructed to buy as much gold as possible. Food and other useful commodities are better than gold in a Mad Max situation, but if there is some remnant of normal economic activity then garbage cans full of wheat are extremely inconvenient to use if you want to buy gas or shoe laces. 9mm or .45 rounds are better, but gold and silver are even better than that, and the market will determine prices and values in the absence of a functioning dollar. I guess it just depends on what you expect to happen. In the short term, if everything chugs along like it has, then at the very least you can beat inflation with gold. Gold has increased almost 50% in the last year, and over 250% over the last ten years. Beat that with the stock market Dave Ramsey! Silver is up 60% from a year ago, and just under 250% over the last ten.

The Fed has been quietly monetizing chunks of debt since the first bailouts. That just means they're printing more money (or just creating it on computers), which means more dollars chasing goods, which means prices go up. Inflation! How fast inflation rises depends on how much they print and how long it takes people to catch on. They'll have to print at least several tens of trillions over the next few years to pay off Congress' handouts because China, Japan, and Russia are not buying our debt anymore. They figured out we have too much of it and we don't make anything to sell to pay off our debt. All we can do is start a war with them to try to force them to use our (non)money. That is not very near the top of my list of good reasons to start a war. You can probably guess the likelihood of me encouraging any of my six sons to sign up for killing Chinese, Japanese, or Russian people (or Iranians. I didn't forget you Iranians!) in order to force them to use worthless dollars. No fighting for The Fed at my house.

Short answer: The dollar is absolutely unbacked by anything other than the good faith and credit of the United States, which is the same thing as nothing. I don't know when and how fast inflation takes off. Sooner than anyone is ready for, and faster than we think.