Then, the first real, roadworthy automobile we bought – at 17 years old – was a ’61 MGA. Remember those? A little British sports car. A two-seater. What fun we had with that! We would play hooky from school, for example, and drive down to Chesapeake Beach. Or, we drove into Washington, DC, where we claimed to be over the legal drinking age and nobody asked any questions anyway. Or, sometimes we just drove around with the top down.
Back in those days there was very little traffic on the roads of Southern Maryland. You could drive where you wanted. Then, you could stop by the side of the road and explore the woods…or drive to some empty beach along the Chesapeake…
What a great time it was to be young, white, and pretend to be over 21! Maybe it was a great time to be young and black, too. We don’t know.
One of our friends at the time was a black girl named Ruby. Segregation had ended just a few years before. Blacks and whites did not mix socially. But we’d put the top down on the car and drive around together. There wasn’t anywhere to go, really. And nothing much to do. But on a nice day, it was a delight just to be out and about in the little red sports car. People would stare and shake their heads… A white boy with a black girl? It just didn’t seem right!
Whatever happened to Ruby? We don’t know… Maybe she’ll read this and we’ll hear from her.
Why are we reminiscing? Well, that little sports car only cost us $200.
Too bad we didn’t put it in a barn somewhere and hold onto it. Today, it would be worth thousands.
You can’t buy an MGA for $200 dollars today, partly because they are collectors’ items and partly because the dollar ain’t what it used to be.
Why ain’t the dollar what it used to be?
Don’t ask silly questions. You know perfectly well.
Because it’s just paper. And in The Wall Street Journal yesterday was the harbinger of something big. A guest editorial suggested that the US return to the gold standard!
The stock market went up 148 points yesterday. Gold went up even more – $22. Stocks have gone nowhere in the last 11 years. Gold is at an all-time high.
And now gold goes up on ‘good’ news and on ‘bad’ news. Inflation? Gold goes up. Deflation? Gold goes up. When stocks go up…gold goes up more. When stocks go down, gold goes up anyway.
Why? The gold market is anticipating a blow-up in the world’s monetary system.
We see it coming too. We’ve already seen what happens when a small country runs up too much debt. Investors get worried. Interest rates rise. The country can no longer borrow to cover its deficits…or to pay its past loans. Disaster.
But the Greek situation is not very different from the situation in dozens of other countries – including Portugal, Spain, Italy, Britain and the USA.
America is unique…and just the same. It is already so deep in debt that even if you taxed 100% of Americans’ income, the resulting take wouldn’t be enough to cover the deficit (people would earn less). And if you cut the Pentagon budget by 100%…you’d still have a deficit too.
It would take a remarkable act of political courage and discipline to put the US back on the path towards sound public finances. Do you see that happening? We don’t.
Instead, what we see are more deficits – from here to kingdom come.
Already, the US national debt (to say nothing about the unfunded liabilities and future debts already in the pipeline) is approaching 100% of GDP. (Greece is at 120% of GDP…soon to be 150%).
At 100% of GDP, the economy must grow at least at the same rate as the interest charge on the debt – or the debt will get larger and larger. In other words, if you paid 5% on the debt…and the rate of GDP growth were 5%…then, if you devoted all the additional growth to paying the interest on the debt, you’d stay in the same place!
The last measure of growth in the US was 3.2%…probably declining. (We’ll set aside the important question as to whether this growth is real or fiction.) But long-term borrowing costs for the feds are headed to 5%. And as investors lose confidence in America’s ability to pay…or its willingness (or ability) to keep the dollar from falling in value…the carrying cost on debt grows.
It is probably too late already. We are probably past the point of no return, as economists Rogoff and Reinhart insist.
In our view, the US could still save itself IF it could make an extraordinary commitment to budget cutting. But we won’t hold our breath.
Instead, we’ll buy more gold.
for The Daily Reckoning
Why the Gold Price Rises on Good News and Bad was originally published in The Daily Reckoning on 5/13/10.