Reasons Why Debt-Based Paper Currency Is Not Money
Yesterday, we explained why gold is uniquely suited for use as real money. Here’s why today’s debt-based paper currency is not…
Gold’s main use, contrary to the belief of some, isn’t in jewelry or dentistry—although those uses are important. Its main use has almost always been as money. But gold’s ancillary uses are growing in importance because, given its physical characteristics, it’s a high-tech metal. It’s one of the most resistant to chemical reaction, one of the most ductile, the most malleable of all the elements, and it’s an exceptional electrical conductor.
There are lots of other advantages to gold as money. It’s by far the most private kind of money; gold coins, unlike paper currency, don’t even carry serial numbers. That makes it truly untraceable. At current prices, it’s more portable than cash, even in the form of $100 bills. It doesn’t retain traces of drugs, as does currency, which makes it less liable to arbitrary confiscation. Although efforts have been made to counterfeit gold bars, with tungsten filler and such, it’s much easier to authenticate than currency.
Until quite recently, 90% of the world’s people were either flat-out prohibited from owning gold (Russia, China, and the rest of the ex-communist world) or simply too poor to consider it (most Indians and other residents of the Third World). But these people are now allowed to own gold and have a fast-increasing ability to buy it. And they’re rapidly doing so. Their cultures have long histories with the metal and recent histories of living in a police state; they understand the value of real money. Although common people are now the biggest gold buyers, their governments and central banks are accumulating it as well.
I expect that gold will soon become the preferred medium of exchange for many. Early adopters will include dealers in drugs, armaments, and other prescribed merchandise; these folks are very security-conscious. They will be joined by all manner of people who just want to do business below the government radar. And in the years to come, paper currency is gradually going to be eliminated by governments in favor of debit cards, credit cards, and other media of electronic transfer. Governments prefer these things, for obvious reasons. People, therefore, are going to need a private way to trade when paper cash is unavailable.
It’s not just that cash will be harder to come by and harder to use. People won’t want to hold it as inflation gets serious; as U.S. dollars are increasingly viewed as hot potatoes, people around the world will gradually go to gold. In 100 or so countries, the dollar is already the de facto currency for large purchases and long-term saving. What will people in these countries do as the dollar starts losing value rapidly? They won’t go back to their local currencies; their only reasonable alternative is gold. All these things will add to demand for the metal. This is good news for those who own gold in size now.
Almost everybody, even gold bugs, has far too little gold. Most people have no gold at all. Pity the poor fools. Gold is going to be reinstituted as money within our lifetimes, simply out of necessity. But that can only happen at higher prices, since only about six billion ounces exist above ground in the entire world.
Now that we’ve defined what money is, let me further define what money is not: debt. All US dollars, which is to say Federal Reserve Notes, are debt. They are neither redeemable for anything by their issuer, nor is there a limit on how many can be created. They represent only a vague claim against the “good faith and credit” of the United States government, which is to say the government’s ability to extract taxes from its subjects. But Uncle Sam has shown himself to be remarkably lacking in good faith and is currently embarked on a course to destroy his credit.
The dollar is literally an “IOU nothing.” It’s true that your grocer and your barber have to accept the dollar because of “legal tender” laws, and because they currently wouldn’t know what else to take in payment. But that’s not true of foreigners, who own something like six trillion dollars.
Paper money is an excellent means for governments to tax people indirectly, surreptitiously, through inflation. That’s one reason central bankers love paper money, but also, phony economic theories, like those of John Maynard Keynes, hold that the government not only can but should meddle with the economy, and the ability to print paper money gives them a means to do that.
In today’s world, not only do people around the world take it for granted that paper is money, but that it should be so.
But it’s all nonsense. After the current system collapses, as every paper money system in the past has collapsed, some form of money will have to replace it, and it’s almost certainly going to be gold.
You know, in the 19th century, the “paper money” you carried in your wallet was called banknotes. Why? Because they actually were notes from your bank representing a specified amount of real money on deposit. People carried these things because they were much more convenient for large amounts of money than chests of gold. Dollars today say “Federal Reserve Note,” not “XYZ Bank Note,” on the back, because they aren’t redeemable for anything besides more Federal Reserve notes. That’s why today’s paper money substitutes are called fiat currencies; they have zero intrinsic value and are not redeemable for anything, but are accepted because the government will put you in jail if you don’t. It’s a fiat accomplished by force, not real value recognized by those who accept the notes.
Hundreds of years ago, people accepted bank notes because they knew the reputations of the banks issuing them (when you traveled, you went to a reputable local bank, which knew the reputation of the bank that issued your notes, and the local bank could issue you new notes in local currency, etc.). There was no central authority to certify these notes. But today, people don’t think that way. They think it takes a government to assure the value of money.
Of course, anyone in Zimbabwe can tell you a government’s guarantee is not necessarily worth anything. A collapse of the dollar – the world’s de facto reserve currency – could spark such a change in that way of thinking.
Gold is also the only asset class that is not also simultaneously someone else’s liability. And in a world as financially unstable as today’s, you just don’t want to hold on to someone else’s liabilities any more than you have to. Especially if that’s a liability of an entity like the U.S. government.
Other currencies are no better; most are worse, and many of them are backed largely by dollars.
Governments, however, are not the only ones who think that debt is money. It seems that many people who get a bunch of credit cards, enabling them to spend beyond their means, imagine that they have money. And they also think that owning the debt of others – like government bonds – means they have money. A bank deposit isn’t really cash; it’s a debt of the bank. There are about three trillion dollars in money market funds; 100% of that money is invested in the short-term debt of banks, corporations, and governments. I would be very leery of these things. Debt is not always repaid. Money, however, simply “is.” That distinction is lost on almost everyone. Don’t be among them.
So you should own gold because it’s money, because of its security, and because it’s an excellent speculation. If you think of your gold as cash, and the dollar as a merely temporarily fashionable means of exchange, you’ll find yourself loading your portfolio with much more gold and gold proxies. That will protect you against the very rapid loss of value the dollar faces in years to come. Inflation is going to truly get out of control. – Doug Casey
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