Gold in the Information Age

By: Adam Hamilton | Fri, Mar 1, 2002
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For the most part, the six millennia or so of human history has progressed in a fairly slow and relaxed manner. Borders changed, technology evolved, time relentlessly marched on, and people coped, but generally at an almost imperceptible pace.

For most of human history, the world into which an average person was born looked pretty much the same many decades later when the cold, boney fingers of death finally came knocking. It was exceedingly rare for enough radical change to transpire within a single human lifespan to dramatically alter the reality of daily living for most of the people who have ever lived.

If we can isolate one macro-strategic factor that changed the world more than any other, I believe the best candidate is technology. Typically, however, technological innovations took centuries to fully infiltrate and permeate societies and their impacts were slowly absorbed over this long time frame.

Many thousands of years ago when most humans made a living as nomadic hunter-gatherers, simply wandering around leisurely following big-animal migration routes and living off the land, the development of agriculture was a quantum leap forward in general technology levels. In shifting the typical lifestyle from nomadic to planted, the technological ideas of static agriculture and irrigation forever altered the course of human history. The technological change was incredibly slow, however, taking millennia to fully run its course.

As humans gradually began to forsake the nomadic lifestyle in many parts of the world and settle in towns and cities, the technology of agriculture spawned innumerable other major innovations. With irrigated fields, farmers could grow far more than their own families could eat in a single season.  As such, surpluses were born, a concept virtually unknown in the hunter-gatherer days when the accumulation of wealth was not even an issue since all possessions were simply deadweight that had to be constantly hauled around.

The surplus of food led to other huge technological innovations, including the specialization of labor, writing, accounting, and money.

As agricultural technology evolved and yields rocketed, fewer and fewer citizens from any given city needed to grow food. This allowed other occupations to specialize in diverse technological fields, including building better farming equipment and trading. The surplus of food necessitated the development of writing and accounting, so the surpluses could be traded and written records kept of the transactions.

Money also became very important in the fixed agrarian societies with specialization of labor so a farmer or a blacksmith or a baker could easily trade his wares without specifically searching for someone else who wanted to take the opposite side of a straight-up barter for goods.

Unfortunately, the surplus of food, goods, and labor also led to a new predatory class of labor-specialization, government.

As humans gathered in growing, irrigated farm-fed cities, the potential alluring fixed targets for roaming bandits and brigands increased dramatically. In order for the thriving cities to protect themselves from random external violence and plunder, governments formed as the cities grew. The governments sought a local monopoly on violence so they could live comfortably on legalized plunder instead of illegal plunder. The government, in return for a fraction of the productive labor extracted from all citizens via taxation, pledged to protect the city's citizens from external threats. The roaming bandits had settled within city walls and began ruling as government in return for the promise of peace for the citizens.

As the cities continued to grow, many more awesome technological innovations were gradually discovered. Some radical new technologies, like gunpowder, had rather obvious implications even around the time they were discovered. Others, such as the saddle with stirrups and the printing press, would forever alter the course of world history in sweeping ways not readily apparent when the inventions first made their appearances.

A saddle with stirrups may not seem like a huge technological advancement compared to a saddle without stirrups, but it proved to be fantastically important. Stirrups enabled heavily armored men on horseback to wield lances and strike with unprecedented force and fury. A knight on a horse without stirrups would lose his balance and fall down from his mount every time he tried to strike with a long lance or swing a sword or mace. Stirrups enabled knights to skillfully wield heavy weapons and strike violently while maintaining their balance, their armored feet locked securely in the stirrups forming a stable weapons platform. With stirrups, skilled knights could transfer the awesome force of their charging war steed straight into the sharp-edge of their fearsome weapons.

The simple stirrup allowed heavily-armored and armed knights to become the tanks of the medieval world, led to the feudal form of government based on oaths, and intimately shaped the history of Europe and Western civilization. The technology of the stirrup transferred power from kings to noblemen who could afford armor and a warhorse. The stirrup eventually enabled the Magna Carta to be signed in 1215 limiting the kings' power and control over their subjects. Technology defined the future and brought more freedom for the common man!

Another seemingly innocuous invention, the printing press, allowed a single man, Martin Luther, to confront the most powerful quasi-government organization in Europe of the era, the Catholic Church of Rome. Who, at the time, would have thought that a humble Catholic monk with some bold ideas that common men could read and understand the Bible all by themselves without Church intervention could lead to the Reformation?

Yet, as Luther's radical ideas of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, and Sola Scriptura (only faith, only grace, only the Bible) gained ground, the technology of the printing press was used to rapidly spread the liberating concepts across Europe like wildfire.

After the Reformation, the constant warring between the old Catholic guard and the new Protestants (they "protested" Roman Catholic hegemony over the Bible) once again forever altered the history of Europe and Western Civilization. Indeed the Church of Rome, the original socialistic central quasi-government of the time, gave way in much of Europe to Protestant ideals based on free markets, individual initiative and liberty, and capitalism. Without the wonderful new technology of the printing press would Luther's ideas have spread fast enough and far enough to rapidly and forever alter history? Almost certainly not!

The independent Protestant worldview combined with fantastic technological advancements of the Industrial Revolution once again utterly transformed the Western world. Factories full of wondrous machines allowed unskilled people to earn good incomes, creating a whole new middle class. Because of technology, not only kings, government officials, merchants, and artisans could enjoy a better life, but ordinary hard-working folks who could run machines in factories also grew prosperous.

As the middle class thrived, taxation unfortunately exploded as governments grew ever larger and more bloated during the Industrial Age. Industrial technology concepts like economies of scope and economies of scale were thought to apply to governments as well, and the Welfare States were born. Just as the original city-state governments in Mesopotamia's fertile crescent and the feudal governments in medieval Europe much later were ultimately products of technological advancement, so are today's massive Welfare State governments.

Today we have the distinct advantage of being able to reverently gaze back on six millennia of human history and analyze in awe just how much technology has totally changed the world. Even relatively simple technological developments like the stirrup and the printing press forever altered the way humans lived and governments organized themselves. Neither the Agricultural Age nor the Industrial Age would have even been born without technological innovation!

As the Industrial Age wanes we are all extremely blessed today to be standing on the very verge of the next mega-change in the course of human history, the Information Age. Only a few decades old at best, the technologies that we are now using every day and the new technologies that we will be using in the near future promise to more radically alter our way of life than anything imaginable in the past. And an unfathomable amount of this change will occur within our relatively short and exciting lifespans!

Imagine what it would have been like to be born in 1880 and live 100 years. This generation of humans absolutely witnessed the most extensive and rapid changes in world history. In one human lifetime in the Golden Age of Industry, folks watched humanity advance from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles to airplanes to moon travel. The immense power of the atom was unleashed, the modern computer was born, DNA was discovered, and the list goes on and on. The technological advancements that humanity achieved between 1880 and 1980 were phenomenal, utterly without remote parallel in all of human history to that point.

Yet, I believe that the colossal technological change that someone who was born in 1980 and lives to 2080 will witness in their lifetime will vastly dwarf the best the Industrial Age had to offer. Today in 2002, after only about two decades of widespread use of computing power and with not even a single decade of widespread Internet use under our belts, we are only on the very smallest threshold of what will be known as the Information Age. I suspect that our wildest dreams cannot even begin to scratch the surface of the wondrous technological and history-changing developments coming in future decades. It will be an awesome ride!

While enormous technological advances in computing, communications, transportation, health, genetics, biotechnology, and even nanotechnology are widely expected, one often overlooked area of potential vast change in the Information Age is money. And of course, if you had grown up in any other time in human history other than the late 20th century, when the word "money" was uttered you would automatically know that it truly meant gold, the ultimate form of money.

The history of money is endlessly fascinating in its own right. Money is incredibly important to civilization. Without money, trade and commerce would be exceedingly difficult. Money eliminates the need for the farmer who wants to buy fish to have to go spend the considerable time and effort to find a fisherman who wants to buy wheat. With money, merchants can easily sell their wares in the market for money, and then exchange the money for something they need later in the future. Money is the very grease that allows the great engines of capitalism to function.

Gold is the perfect form of money for many reasons.

Gold is extremely rare, which makes it intrinsically valuable. Money without intrinsic value, like paper, has never survived the test of time. Paper money experiments have been tried innumerable times throughout history and have always failed. Eventually, the government issuing the paper money succumbs to the overwhelming temptation to print too much, debasing the currency and causing the paper money to be worth less and less. Gold is gold, always unchanging, perpetually rare, and always having intrinsic worth. Unscrupulous governments can't create gold out of thin air to finance whatever their pet spending-program of the time may be!

Gold is also fungible. One ounce of gold is the exact same as and as good as any other ounce of gold in existence. An ounce of gold the Romans mined in Spain two thousand years ago is a perfect substitute and identical to an ounce of gold mined in South Africa this morning.

Gold is also universally recognized and sought after. Whether you are buying a diamond ring in New York City or a Stinger shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile in the back allies of Kabul, Afghanistan, you will have no trouble making your purchase with gold. Every merchant in the world instantly recognizes gold, they almost all accept gold, and it still functions as the ultimate currency just as it has throughout most of human history. Gold also exerts a powerful seductive and universal effect on the hearts of men, stirring up deep greed and burning goldlust that is often insatiable. Governments rise and fall, empires wax and wane, paper currencies are hatched and die, but the enormous demand for gold around the world perpetually grows.

Gold also has great value per given volume, even today. There are about 14.6 troy ounces in a normal avoirdupois pound (the usual pound when we Americans think of pounds). At $300 per ounce gold, each normal pound of the dense yellow metal is worth $4,380. With 10 pounds of gold, a small amount of weight and volume, you could easily buy a normal automobile. Most cars on the road today are worth less than $44k. With 50 pounds of gold, you could buy an average American house at $219k. A single cubic-inch of gold weighs about 10.1 troy ounces or 0.7 normal pounds, worth about $3,000. 50 pounds of gold, enough to buy an average house, would fit in a solid gold cube a little more than 4 inches on a side! Imagine the fun of buying your house free and clear with a cube of gold about the size of a roll of toilet paper!

Gold is also virtually indestructible. Gold can lie on the bottom of the ocean in salt water for centuries, and still look as beautiful as the day it was mined or minted when it is salvaged. Gold is chemically inert, able to withstand almost all solvents. Unlike all other forms of money tried throughout human history, everything from cows to paper currencies, gold lasts so long it seems eternal.

With the fabled yellow metal being extremely rare, fungible, instantly recognizable, highly sought-after globally, representing great value for a given volume, and being almost impossible for both governments and nature to destroy, it is no surprise that the Ancient Metal of Kings has been the money of choice throughout most of human history.

Amazingly, in our high-technology world of super-science and unbelievable wonders of the young Information Age, gold as money is poised to make a dramatic comeback! While gold may seem hopelessly anachronistic to some, it really is almost certainly destined to once again become the money of choice in the near future, dethroning the national paper currencies that have held sway in the last century.

In the past, gold as a commonly-used monetary currency has typically faced three significant obstacles to universal acceptance.

First, gold is so amazingly valuable that it is hard to use for small transactions. Second, carrying large amounts of gold on one's person is both difficult because of its weight and dangerous because it is a tempting target for thieves. Third, gold is almost universally hated by governments who deplore the iron-fisted monetary discipline it steadfastly imposes.

Gold's very high value per volume has actually deterred its use for money in small transactions in the past. For buying little things, physical gold has often been too valuable. For example, if you want to buy a Coca-Cola, how would you pay in gold even if you wanted to? At US$0.50 per can, the coke would only be worth 1/600th of an ounce of gold. It is immensely impractical for both the buyer and the seller to try and subdivide ounces of gold into small quantities. Can you imagine trying to shave off a speck of gold from your Gold Eagle with a pocket-knife to try and buy a soda?

Gold's weight and its vulnerability to theft have also retarded its use as a common monetary currency in recent history. While most people would not even need to typically carry anywhere near a pound of gold around (remember, that is worth $4,380 at $300/oz gold), larger transactions in gold can also be impractical. Carrying around a 50lb cube of gold a little over four inches on each side worth $219k would be hard work. Just ask any infantry soldier in the military how tough it is hiking around with 50 or 60 pounds of gear! In addition, if you happened to be mugged when you were carrying around your $219k cube of gold, it's liable to just plain wreck your day.

Finally, governments viscerally loathe gold. Throughout all of human history, governments have never been content to live within their means. If a given government has X dollars of annual tax revenue, it always finds X+Y dollars worth of "absolutely crucial" spending priorities and thinks it "needs" to start spending more than it takes in through taxation. Paper currencies are perfect for undisciplined governments. If the government needs more money, it simply runs the printing presses longer. Of course, as that extra money enters circulation in the future there will be more money chasing the available supply of goods and services and each unit of paper money will be worth far less. Governments hate gold because it prevents them from levying an immoral and deceptive inflation stealth tax on their unsuspecting populaces.

Incredibly, because of awesome new Information Age technologies, all these traditional obstacles to gold being used as a normal everyday currency may be rendered impotent almost overnight!

Just like the stirrup and the printing press, initially seemingly niche technological innovations of little consequence, I believe we are already seeing the rise of the money and currencies of the Information Age. So far, knowledge of these innovations is not widespread as they are only a few years old, but I strongly believe that the new Information Age gold currencies will ultimately forever alter business and commerce around the globe as we know it.

Just as the stirrup ultimately ended the kings' absolute authority over his people, and the printing press ultimately ended the Roman Church's absolute hegemony over faith and information, the new Information Age gold currencies will probably ultimately end the Welfare-State governments' absolute dominance over the crucial monetary arena.

I think we are already witnessing the very earliest signs of an innovation of phenomenal historical importance that is going to utterly crush the centralized national government dominance of money in the coming decades.

The innovation? DIGITAL GOLD!

Digital gold represents real, tangible physical gold, but is traded via computer and cutting-edge information networks. Digital gold actually already exists and is being increasingly used in global commerce today. My company, Zeal LLC, just like innumerable others worldwide, actually already accepts payments for our private financial newsletter and private consulting services in digital gold TODAY!

Digital gold is used just like normal money today to buy and sell goods and services. Digital gold is an electronic claim on actual physical gold sitting in secure vaults in various countries around the world. Rights to a portion of a private physical gold hoard are traded instantly electronically. Digital gold seamlessly merges the best of all money and information worlds, combining the legendary security and strength of physical gold, the ease of use of a credit card, and the convenience of a bank account.

To use digital gold in a transaction, first one spends some of the paper currency that floods the world today to buy the rights to a chunk of physical gold with a company specializing in private digital currencies. Interestingly, private currencies have been very popular at various times in world history, a fact which is often surprising to folks who grew up in the age of the Welfare States and national currencies today. Once you own a chunk of physical gold sitting in a secure vault, you can use information technology to trade pieces of that physical gold for valuable goods and services. Just like using a credit card, when you buy something with digital gold the rights to a given amount of your physical gold are transferred instantly and effortlessly behind the scenes by computer networks to whoever sold you the good or service.

Digital gold easily overcomes all the traditional limitations of using gold as currency. It is easily divisible into extremely small quantities, it has no weight because it is traded electronically, it can be made unbelievably secure, and it allows gold to once again enter common circulation digitally, shattering the sad and inflationary reign of socialistic Welfare-State governments over the global currency and money markets.

With digital gold, buying a can of soda or even an oil supertanker is a piece of cake. To buy a can of soda, you could just stick your digital gold card, just like a credit card, into a machine, use a biometric to uniquely identify you, and automatically a fraction of an ounce of gold is debited from your gold holding (like an account) and instantly and irrevocably transferred to the gold holding of the soda vendor. Because the gold is traded digitally, it can easily be subdivided almost infinitely. Want to buy something that costs a penny? No problem with digital gold, which is perfect for the coming micro-purchases that will increasingly define the Internet services of the Information Age.

Who knows? Someday it may cost you a few pennies worth of gold to read a weekly Zeal internet essay, a true bargain if I don't say so myself! ;-)

To buy an oil supertanker with digital gold, you don't need to haul large quantities of physical gold to a shipyard. Just instantly transfer X tens-of-thousands of ounces of digital gold from your digital gold holding to the shipyard's digital gold holding, and you have paid for a supertanker in a fraction of a second! Take your keys and steam into the sunset.

Security with digital gold is also not much of a concern. As the Information Age evolves, technologies like encryption will grow extremely strong. Today most of us trust the weak 128-bit encryption used universally on web pages for processing credit-card transactions. Imagine unbreakable 512-bit or 1024-bit encryption securing digital gold transactions! The right encryption technology can allow absolutely and totally secure unhackable transactions. In addition, similar technologies can also ensure that your digital gold is being transferred to exactly the seller you want it to go to. In the Information Age, unbreakable strong encryption will allow buyers and sellers to positively identify each other and deal securely in digital gold.

Private digital gold currency companies will also have to have very strong internal controls and transparent independent external audits to convince people that their particular digital gold is 100% backed with real physical gold locked in secure vaults around the world. This supreme degree of trust will take some time to build and will certainly be violated a few times before the young digital gold industry shakes out the unscrupulous Enron-types, but eventually, just like private companies issuing credit cards today, the concept of private companies holding physical gold in secure locations in the names of their clients will seem normal for folks in the Information Age.

The most honest digital gold companies with the most secure locations and tightest controls on their physical gold hoards will rise to the top of the heap and grow into very large and prosperous global businesses.

To even further increase the general population's comfort level with digital gold, digital gold holders can also, at any time, cash out their digital gold balances for real physical gold almost anywhere on earth.

How do digital gold companies make money and thrive? Two ways, transaction fees and storage fees.

Each time you make a purchase with digital gold, the private currency company will levy a small transaction fee, probably less than 1% of the total cost of your purchase. Compared with the percentage overhead that credit card companies typically charge today, 1% or so is very low and totally acceptable.

In addition, the private currency companies will charge a small annual fee for storing your physical gold in their secure vaults, once again probably less than 1% a year. 1% a year may sound like a lot, until one realizes that even the strongest Welfare-State paper currencies like the US dollar typically charge at least 3% or so a year for storage. A storage fee on paper currency today? YES! It is called inflation! If you don't believe it, ask the Argentineans.

The paper currency "storage fee" today, or inflation, is caused by socialist governments promiscuously running their printing presses. With digital gold 100% backed by real physical gold, potentially high inflation is eliminated and future inflation is utterly impossible. High and unpredictable Welfare-State inflation on paper money is gloriously slain by digital gold and replaced with a very low and predictable sub-1% annual storage fee contracted in advance.

Finally, and most importantly, digital gold will ultimately explode onto the world commerce scene whether governments like it or not!

Just as powerful medieval kings could not stop the spread of the stirrup which spawned the creation of mighty knights that challenged their power, and just as the immensely powerful Roman Church was unable to stop the printing press from spreading knowledge to the people that challenged its power, the digital gold currencies will also gain widespread acceptance regardless of government opposition to the premise of an ultimate free-market currency beyond government control.

Just as the kings struggled with the stirrup-clad knights and the Roman Church fought the printing-press wielding Reformers before the powers-that-be were forced to accept defeat, Welfare-State governments may too fight digital gold in the coming years but they will also fail.

As long as there is even a single sovereign government left anywhere on the planet that will allow the digital gold companies to store their clients' physical gold in secure vaults on its soil, digital gold currencies will thrive. Actually, many governments will eventually want to invite in the private digital gold companies because the tax revenues on digital gold profits will ultimately be very high! The only conceivable way that digital gold could ever be eliminated is if a single global government, God forbid, somehow controlled the entire Internet and every single square foot of real estate on planet earth. That will never happen!

Stop by www.GoldMoney.com to see a real-life honest-to-goodness digital gold company operating right now, at the very vanguard of the cutting-edge digital gold revolution. The legendary James Turk, a globally-respected gold freedom-fighter very familiar to gold investors through his landmark research work on current stealthy central bank gold manipulations, is one of the founders of this exciting venture. Other international digital gold companies including e-Gold (www.e-gold.com) are also gaining ground.

The more I learn about and use digital gold, the more I believe that it is a stunning monetary innovation of incredible historical importance that will forever change the world of business and commerce in the Information Age. Rather than the Information Age rendering the millennia-old monetary stability and confidence in gold obsolete, the new digital gold currencies promise to combine gold with Information-Age technology that will make gold shine in commerce even brighter than it has before in any time of world history!

Like the stirrup in the Agricultural Age and the printing press in the Industrial Age, digital gold will help restore freedom to common men and women worldwide by creating a substitute at first and eventually a replacement for the horribly mismanaged inflation-ravaged paper currencies of the Welfare States.

Long live gold!


 

Adam Hamilton

Author: Adam Hamilton

Adam Hamilton, CPA
Zeal LLC.com

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Mr. Hamilton, a private investor and contrarian analyst, publishes Zeal Intelligence, an in-depth monthly strategic and tactical analysis of markets, geopolitics, economics, finance, and investing delivered from an explicitly pro-free market and laissez faire perspective. Please visit www.ZealLLC.com for more information, www.zealllc.com/samples.htm for a free sample, and www.zealllc.com/subscribe.htm to subscribe.

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