The End of Gold

A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 7 2012 11:38 AM

Why You Don't Need Gold As a Safe Haven

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Gold—it's not what's for dinner.

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Peter Tasker writes in the Financial Times that gold is no longer a smart "safe haven" investment for people looking to hedge against financial distress, but I don't think he really puts his finger on the main reason.

The issue is that financial innovation isn't always a bad idea. For a long time, people have wanted an investment that provides them with guarantees against inflation and fiscal mismanagement. And now we have them! You can buy a dollar-denominated inflation-protected bonds (TIPS) from the U.S. government. The United Kingdom, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, Australia, and other developed countries will also sell you such bonds. Of course that doesn't provide absolute protection against the possibility that the government will simply confiscate your money for some reason, but nothing guarantees that. After all, FDR confiscated everyone's monetary gold in 1933, and the government always could expropriate your real-estate holdings or forcibly nationalize companies. But if you're simply looking for a hedge against price inflation, buy TIPS. If you want to hedge against a decline in the value of the dollar, buy foreign currencies. If you think resource scarcity will lead to rising prices in all currencies, you buy useful commodities—oil, corn, cattle futures, whatever.

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The bounties of the free market don't provide anything, but they have provided plenty of solutions to the problem gold is supposed to solve. Which means gold is a speculative investment like any other. It might be more expensive in the future, or it might be cheaper, and if you think you know which it is, you might want to invest. But for general concerns about the state of the economy, there are almost certainly better-tailored solutions.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.