Monday, August 11, 2008

The price of gold: going up or down?

Gold prices have been going down since mid-July. But gold prices have to go back up. The reasons are pretty simple. The Fed has been pumping money into the economy like madmen for decades (since 1971 when they cut loose from the gold standard completely... $1 in 2008 is equal to 19 cents in 1971 by official estimates which significantly understate true inflation.) That has resulted in a collapse of the market for credit, which contracts the money supply. If they do not vigorously inflate (even more), deflation will result.

They were able to inflate so recklessly for so long without catastrophe because of the artificially created demand for credit. Imagine you have a machine that can create apples at zero cost. You use this machine to create billions and billions of free apples and sell them at 100% profit into the economy. At first, people will want more apples than ever because you can sell them so much more cheaply than ordinary apples. But then, you will have to start lowering your prices to keep people buying them as ever larger quantities are consumed. Eventually, when you have sold so many apples that people cannot stand the sight of an apple, you will not be able to even give them away. This is what has happened with cheap credit via inflation. The Fed has kept pumping in cheap credit into the economy to inflate the money supply until even credit-crazy American consumers cannot stand the sight of another credit card. Now, the Fed and the commercial banking system cannot even give money away (0% loans), which is why you saw so many of those 0% credit card offers in the mail before this credit crunch hit.

In our system, money is created when loans are extended and destroyed when loans are repaid. But what happens when uncreditworthy borrowers start defaulting on loans but consumers and businesses are not taking out new loans? The money supply contracts, which causes deflation. Deflation causes prices to drop, which is a nightmare scenario for the fiat money system (the Great Depression was a deflationary crash.) Deflation is a nightmare scenario because it is a positive feedback mechanism. As credit is destroyed due to loan defaults, the value of the dollar increases. As the value of the dollar increases, incomes & revenues fall causing even more loan defaults as the old loans were denominated in inflated dollars - a 10x deflation of the dollar would cause my $40,000 in student loans to be effectively equivalent to $400,000 in today's dollars. If I didn't default, I would be massively impoverished. With all the outstanding mortgages, you can see how a deflationary scenario is effectively doomsday (as Gary North says, if you think this is going to happen and you're not living 100 miles from the nearest urban center with food and water (and ammo?) stocks, you're not taking your own prediction seriously.)

Since deflation is the banking system's worst nightmare, they will see to it that enough new money is created one way or another to offset the money which is destroyed as loans default with no new borrowers. So, we can expect to see much more inflation in the future. They would rather risk a Weimar Republic-style hyper-inflation than Depression-style deflation. There are truckloads more bad debt yet to be written off, clear into 2011. The idea that we've hit bottom is fanciful, at best. Until we hit bottom on this thing, I see no reason to expect gold prices not to continue to rise.

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