If you are a gold-bug or if you simply delight in stories about the sidelines of gold, then you must go and read an article in the New Yorker of October 10, 2011. Here is a sample of the story:
Cash-for-gold stores in Toronto were proliferating. In May of 2009, ten-foot-high vinyl banners were affixed to the façade on either side of the entrance to Omni Jewel and Java. They said, in huge letters, “CASH FOR GOLD.” Harold Gerstel believed that Berkovits, who had a much more prominent corner location, was angling for customers who had obviously been drawn by the power of Harold the Jewellery Buyer television commercials. Gerstel struck back by sending people wearing Harold the Jewellery Buyer sandwich boards over to Omni’s side of Bathurst Street. Then, one evening in July of 2010, three Toronto police officers showed up at the home of Maria Konstan, who worked at Harold the Jewellery Buyer. The policemen informed her that she was being arrested for hiring a hit man to murder Jack Berkovits. Five months after Maria Konstan’s arrest, the situation at Bathurst and Glencairn became even more bizarre: around two o’clock on the morning of December 27th, someone threw a fire bomb through the window of Harold the Jewellery Buyer, completely destroying the interior. Sorting out a crowd of suspects has been beyond the best efforts of the Toronto police. Read more at http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/10/111010fa_fact_trillin#ixzz1bwHVRQbV
The story only gets stranger as the price of gold goes up. By the end of the story, I was almost ready to take all the old gold stuff lying around my house to sell it, but then I thought: “Why some say gold will go to $10,000, so might as well wait a little.”
Which set me wondering why anybody would sell their gold jewelry right now? True it is probably worth more than they paid for it way back then, but it could go vastly higher if pundits prove correct and Germany fails to bail out the Greeks. Or for that matter Romney is the next president. (Read Harpers Magazine on how Mormon economics shapes the G.O.P. Basically it involves getting rich to be rich hereafter and meanwhile setting in store goods and gold for national emergencies. i.e., buy gold.)
Now I support gold mining as enthusiastically as any. I have shares in Goldcorp who today announced spectacular results. Plus I like and respect the people I know who work there. But somehow or other, I cannot see how a society devoted to mining gold and stocking it in safe boxes beneath the bed is a society that can prosper.
I see no harm in mining some gold, buying some gold mine shares, buying some real gold, and keeping old gold jewelry; but I cannot see how that can be the sole or even a major focus of human activity. I find it hard to believe that if, heaven forbid, there is a collapse of the government–a national emergency of currency–how gold will save our souls. I cannot envisage how in the event of the worst, a few gold mine shares or a few pieces of ugly old gold jewelry will enable me to pay for light and water, gas and power, food and drink. Surely some gun-toting terror will have knocked me out or blown off my head for my meager gold stock well before I get to an organic food store to eat. Just as in Toronto, somebody will throw a bomb through my front window before I can enjoy my gold stash.
So maybe I should go out and trade some gold for guns and lessons in shooting straight. With my lousy aim, that will consume al my gold holdings. But at least I will be able to blaze my way to the store.
Or is mankind truly so altruistic that in the event of total collapse we will gather together in nice little rural towns and defend each other from other nice little towns as we grow our own perforce organic vegetables? Take a look at Somalia or read Steven Pinker’s new book and this idea will soon be seen to be silly. I bought it in the Edmonton airport bookstore yesterday, so not read yet. But here is a task from a recent review:
Steven Pinker’s impressive new book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” has been much reviewed and discussed since its publication last month—a rare occurrence for a book of ideas. The two key empirical claims that Pinker puts forward are suggested in the title: that the level of human violence (war, murder, etc.) has been decreasing over the centuries and that the human ability to reason has been correspondingly increasing. He goes on to explain the first claim by the second. Our ability to reason causes us to be less violent: “A smarter [more rational] world,” he says, “is a less violent world.”
He may be wrong. It may be simply that as we mine and manufacture more, there is less need to fight to get the basics and the luxuries.
Still he promises a good thinks—consider this dilemma:
A similar problem arises from a famous line of thought developed and endorsed by Peter Singer (who, as we noted, influenced Pinker’s ethical ideas). We all agree that it would be morally wrong not to pull a drowning child from a nearby lake, even if that meant ruining a suit of clothes worth, say, $500. But suppose we know that a donation of $500 to Oxfam is virtually certain to save a child in Africa from starving to death. If there’s no moral difference between the child starving in Africa and the child drowning nearby, then donating to Oxfam (or similar groups) is not an optional act of charity but a moral obligation. In particular, if a couple spend $500 on an anniversary dinner instead of giving it to save starving children, they have acted immorally.
I have no suit worth that, I have not spent that on dinner ever, and yet! I did buy that new bike the other day and I did fail to work off the benefit of my degree in Africa. I have always put me and my family first. Morality be damned given a choice between the family and those pictures of starving millions. So I will read Pinker, but think hard about his morality thesis, about the price of gold, about buying a gun, and about voting for the next president.