A little less than four years ago, the world looked like it was about to end and gold hit an all-time high of $1,895 an ounce.
The United States had manufactured a debt crisis, and Europe hadn’t been able to manufacture a solution to its actual debt crisis, so panicky investors sought safety in the same place they had for 5,000 years: a shiny rock. The only problem, as you might have noticed, is that the world did not, in fact, end. It’s still here, so gold prices aren’t. The yellow metal has fallen 42 percent from its peak—and 8 percent in just the last month—despite the fact that the Federal Reserve has printed more than $1.5 trillion in this time. That, after all, is what gold aficionados said would make its price go to the moon, if not infinity and beyond. So what’s happened? Well, exactly what economists said would happen.
When you think about it, a bet on gold is really a bet that the people in charge don’t know what they’re doing. Policymakers missed yesterday’s financial crisis, so maybe they’re missing tomorrow’s inflation, too. That, at least, is what a cavalcade of charlatans, cranks, and armchair economists have been shouting for years now, from the penny ads that run on the bottom of websites—did you know that the $5 bill proves the stock market is on the cusp of crashing?—to Glenn Beck infomercials and even hedge fund conferences. Indeed, John Paulson, who made more fortunes than you can count betting against subprime, has been piling into gold for six years now, because he thinks “the consequences of printing money over time will be inflation.” They all do. Goldbugs act like the Federal Reserve’s public balance sheet is a secret only they have discovered, and that it’s only a matter of time until prices explode like they did in the 1970s United States, if not 1920s Germany.