The Folly of Digital Money, the Lasting Value of Gold

Progress isn’t always…well…progress.

Take what we use for our money, for example.

Who, today, doesn’t employ a “symbolic” form of money, a credit or ATM card, several times a week (not to mention a day)? These digital transactions, though convenient, don’t actually represent the transfer of physical cash from one hand to another. Instead, and in reality, electronic digits are the only things that are getting transferred.

And not from one hand to another, but from one computer to another.

Consider this cautionary tale. A bank customer – let’s call him Dave – had accumulated 175,000 “bonus points” due to his bank credit card purchases. These points qualified Dave to buy, or in bank terms exchange, points for a variety of valuable goods (kind of like a frequent flyer program). He was all set to go.

At least until a controversy involving real money arose. Dave had wanted a top-of-the line gold watch valued at 200,000 points. He needed only 25,000 additional points – via more bank credit card purchases and/or cash deposits, deposits he promptly made – and that’s when the glitch surfaced.

A deposit error involving the computer input of a single zero left Dave short of his watch. Fortunately Dave was able to produce his actual paper deposit receipt to expose the bank’s digital error. Anxious now to keep its customer happy, the bank quickly “rewarded” him with the missing 25,000 “reward points.”

All it had to do to make things right was instruct an employee to make a few keystrokes and the additional 25,000 points magically appeared on Dave’s very next statement. One second he was short of the 25.000 digits he had rightfully earned, the next they were in his account.

All owing to a few keystrokes.

Not long later, the bank “devalued” its point system, 10-to-1. What used to take 200,000 reward points now took just 20,000. Again, this complicated devaluation process quickly and quietly took place through the magic of some keystrokes. Could our swooning greenback be devalued just as fast one day?

The point here? Instead of good old-fashioned gold-backed dollars or gold coins deposited in a bank, person to person, our new digital money is added, subtracted and transferred by some anonymous someone tapping a few keys on a keyboard. And by a digital network doing its thing. If a computer said you had $2.00 – or $200,000 – in your account, depending on the keystrokes made, that’s what you had. After all, the bank’s official computer said it was so.

You see, digits, in themselves, have no inherent value. They’re something like electronic fairy dust. It literally takes nothing but milliseconds – not sweat – to add, subtract, copy or transfer them. Sadly, the same is mostly true of dollars: Consider that trillions of them have been produced by Washington in just the last few years. Sure, cash may be a little less convenient to produce than digits.

But not by much.

Here’s how you make a million dollars digitally: you tap the number 1 on a bank computer’s keyboard, type in a comma, type in three zeros, type another comma, then type three more zeros. Presto! Total elapsed time? Maybe a few seconds.

Here’s how you make a million analog dollars: you work hard at a job that makes you $50,000, after taxes, a year, and then do that for 20 years.

Notice the difference? Needless to say, digital money is a politician’s dream.

Gold, on the other hand, is not reproducible. It’s a solid metal with a nice heft to it, and it won’t pass through a router no matter how clever a computer nerd is. You could call it real working class money. When you own an ounce of gold, you get to own it until you hand it to someone else. No one can add, subtract, copy or transfer your gold by tapping on a keyboard. No one has ever succeeded in rendering it worthless. And since gold is rare and can’t be printed on anyone’s printing press, there’s no danger of politicians diluting the precious metal as they can and do with the U.S. dollar. And that’s why politicians hate it.

Gold has been mankind’s hard money for thousands of years, easily outlasting countless paper currencies…and it’s certain to outlast today’s nerdy digital money, too.

In today’s great recessionary fog, merely having keystroked digits represent the sum total of your life savings can be, to say the least, a bit unsettling. It might be a whole lot smarter for you to have a good percentage of your assets represented by hefty physical gold you actually get to hold in the palm of your hand rather than “electronic fairy dust.”