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Returning to a Gold Standard – Why and How.

Friday, January 12, 2018 15:27
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Returning to a Gold Standard – Why and How. | gold-dollar-eagle-720x340 | Economy & Business Special Interests

Fraser Murrell delves into the history of the Gold Standard and how a modern day version could be put in place.

Author: Dr Fraser Murrell, Melbourne Australia
First Posted: Thursday , 20 Nov 2014

In the 1600s, Sir Isaac Newton presided over a (bi-metal) Gold and Silver Standard, with the flaw being the fix of silver to gold. In the 1900s, John Maynard Keynes “revolutionized” economics, with the result being certain economic collapse. In both cases there was a logical error in the key definition of “price”, which is critical to the stability of the economy. This note examines the problem and then goes on to present a workable Gold Standard, which it is argued, is the most stable frame of reference for our economy.

FRAMES OF REFERENCE

Life would be chaotic if “time and space” changed regularly or even our definition of it changed regularly. Fortunately, Newton sorted it all out back in the 1600s, developed the Laws of Motion, allowing mankind to proceed with certainty. However, if some Government “expert” later decided that time ran backwards on alternate days and space was shaped like a banana, then chaos would return.

In economics, the central concepts are “time and price” and again Newton considered this problem and deemed that “price” should be defined with reference to weights of gold and silver (more on this later). Once again the real world proved him (almost) correct and as a result there was economic certainty and “Britain Ruled the Waves”. But then along came economic “experts” like Keynes who changed all the critical definitions and as a result we have been plunged back into chaos.

To understand Keynes’ distortion of our economic frame of reference, consider the following example. A man walks into a bank in 1971 with savings of $1,000 (cash) and $1,000 (gold) and today in 2014 he retires and withdraws both. Ignoring for the moment interest and fees, under an (ideal) Newtonian frame of reference there would be price stability, so that the value of each withdrawal will have the same purchasing power as that deposited – in other words “price” is independent of “time”. BUT under Keynes’ new definition of “price and time” the results are that the $1,000 (cash) remains $1,000 (cash) but can now only buy $25 worth of 1971 goods and the $1,000 (gold) is now deemed to be worth $40,000 (cash) even though it can still only buy $1,000 worth of 1971 goods.

The first point is that Keynes has introduced inflation into the concept of “time” and secondly he has introduced volatility into the definition of “price”, because (as it turns out) a man who saved all his money in cash would have been robbed by a factor of 97.5% (in real world terms) and a man who saved all his money in gold would have retained his original purchasing power, but would have been deemed to have invested $1,000 (cash) and received $40,000 (cash) and therefore have made a taxable “capital gain”, thus losing (approximately) half to the Government.

The economic consequences are that anyone who saves in cash is penalized (it is better to go into debt) and anyone who invests in assets that only match inflation loses half in taxation and only a man who actively takes risks and is lucky enough to beat double the rate of inflation can break even. This economy therefore rewards debt funded price speculation over saving and wealth creation, resulting in a negative feedback loop that creates an ever weaker economy.

Whether by design or not, Keynesians and Governments have scrambled together the definitions of time, price, wealth, tax, inflation, volatility and many other things. Furthermore, by constantly changing these definitions, they have created chaos and an unstable system that (I think) must eventually collapse. Someone needs to sit down and unravel all these definitions and restore economic order. As a mathematician rather than an economist, I want to focus on the key definitions of “time and price” and let others do the rest.

HUMAN LOGIC

To find the correct definition of “price”, we cannot just jump to the correct conclusion and nor should we accept any Government’s conclusion of convenience. It turns out that we must first understand human logic itself and what it can and cannot achieve. The philosopher Wittgenstein expressed this in his “Tractatus”. My comments follow in brackets < * >:

[1] The real world is as it is.

< A = A and B = B  >

[2] The real world is independent of human thought.

< Humans can assume that A = B, but this may or may not be correct >.

[3] Human thought is a logical construct which can only prove its own assumptions.

< The assumption A = B can only prove itself A = B or a restatement of itself B = A. It can say nothing of other things C, D, or E without further assumptions >.

[4] If you do not know what you are talking about, it is better to shut up.

< If you assume that A = B and the real world subsequently proves you wrong at any point, then you must abandon your conclusion and revisit your assumptions >.

In my view, these fundamental principles apply to all fields of human endeavour, including physics, economics and (particularly) religion, and humanity would do well to understand them before uttering another word.

Now applying Wittgenstein’s logic correctly – humans can assume a definition of “price” in terms of something measurable in the real world (A = B) but only the real world can confirm or reject that assumption. Any economy we build using a flawed assumption, will itself be fatally flawed. But if we assume a definition of price that the real world confirms, then that economy will be sound. The only thing we know with certainty is that the definition “price = an unbacked fiat currency” is flawed and therefore should be abandoned. But then what is the best assumption on the definition of price?

NEWTON’S BI-METAL STANDARD

Legend has it that Newton developed his Laws of Motion after an apple fell on his head. The man is our greatest ever genius, but I doubt this was the cause. What (I think) he actually did was make (trial and error) assumptions about the nature of “time and space”, then work through his equations and see if nature confirmed or rejected them. Only when nature confirmed them were his assumptions proved correct and he was able to progress ever onwards to his conclusions.

In other words, the falling apple was nature’s confirmation. But had that apple hit him from any other direction or at any other speed, then Newton would have been forced to abandon his conclusions and revisit the assumptions. And in the same way, the real world will (sooner or later) force mankind to revisit its assumptions on “price” and how to create a stable economy.

As Master of the Royal Mint. Newton’s considerations on the “economic frame of reference” followed the same course and (unfortunately) his conclusion accepted the status quo, which was :

Time – fixed in progression and independent of price

Price – fixed by reference to weight of both gold and silver and independent of time.

Thus “price” had a bi-metal weight definition, with both gold and silver being legal tender. I should add that an integral part of this frame of reference was also the concept of “free coinage”, whereby private gold and silver could be recast as legal tender in unlimited amount.

From the time the Spanish discovered silver in South America in the 1500s until the late 1800s, the value of gold relative to silver was fixed at around 15.5 to 1 (an oddly precise number). Newton continued with the practice but should have seen Wittgenstein’s objection – that fixing gold to silver was a human thought construct that may not be valid in the real world and so (if wrong) must inevitably cause problems.

Indeed, China’s strong preference for silver over gold (in trade) meant a silver shortage, which problem was partly reversed with the (scandalous) “opium wars”. But the problem was not China or anything else in the real world, it was the unnatural peg of silver to gold. Because had silver been allowed to float, the price would have risen and so ever less silver exported. Nevertheless, a great instability was introduced into the system which gave opportunists the chance to gradually introduce their own fiat currency system (a creation of human thought, backed by nothing except confidence).

KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS

Despite needing only a tweak (floating silver), the key definition of “time and price” in Newton’s economic framework were fundamentally changed by economic “experts” like Keynes. Price went from being a “pound” weight of silver, whose value was anchored in the real world – to a flawed thought experiment totally unrelated to the thing that it was trying to measure. With result that from Newton’s time until today (300 years), the “pound” has depreciated by approximately 99.9%, with almost all of that since Keynes. Looked at another way, the “price” of all things in the real world relative to the pound has increased by a factor of 1,000. Thus the “pound” stopped being a useful definition of “price” and instead became a measure of the stupidity of the “expert” economists who changed the definition. Even lima beans would have done a better job (because at least they are of the real world).

What is worse is that the depreciation of the pound has been a volatile process, causing booms and busts and all manner of economic problems. Savers (in fiat currency) have been robbed by the depreciation, causing a change in human behaviour from economic conservatism and wealth and job creation to a culture of debt funded price speculation. These “unwilling speculators” are then robbed again by bankers (with high interest) and then charged by Governments (with income and capital gains taxes) for merely trying to maintain their original purchasing power. In other words, under our current frame of reference, humans have had to run ever faster just to stand still, resulting in an ever increasing risk appetite that results in larger booms and busts. Other things like unemployment, poverty and crime can all be linked back to this flawed definition of “price and time”.

Perhaps the biggest problem is the inter-generational damage. For some unknown reason, Governments constantly target inflation around 2.5% but then underreport the real rate of inflation of around 5% (or more). With result that asset prices are rising faster than the rate of CPI adjusted wage growth. Meaning that young adults today cannot afford to purchase the same assets (such as a house) that their parents could. Whence each generation gets poorer, to the point that now both parents need to work multiple jobs in order to support a family. Concurrently, there is also a wealth transfer to the richest 1% of the population, because it is the rich that hold the assets that are inflating and drawing (ever increasing) rent.

All that said, humans could (at any time) redefine their economic frame of reference so that economic order is restored. Under which model, humans could expect price stability and wealth preservation. When farmers and engineers take over from bankers in the pecking order, good things will follow.

Note also that, the above discussion is not a special case, but has been repeated worldwide. During WW2, Europe exchanged its gold for American weapons and thereby handed America its economic power. In 1944 the Bretton Woods agreement was signed giving the USD “currency reserve status” on condition of a “gold peg” whereby gold and the USD were exchangeable at the rate 35 to 1. In 1971 Nixon removed the peg (stole the gold it held in trust) and from that time on the world’s only definition of “price” has been referenced to “fiat currency”. The result has been as follows:

                                                1971                 2014                 2014  

(base = 1)         USD       Relative GOLD

Gold                                         1                      40                     1

Oil                                           1                      40                     1

S&P500                                   1                      20                     0.5

USD                                        1                      1                      0.025

This quantifies my earlier discussion of the man who deposited cash and gold in the bank. Dividends have not been included in the calculation of the S&P500, but had they been, the returns would probably be similar to that of gold. The point is that when “price” is measured by USD, the “price” of real world assets have all increased by around 40 times over the period. Calling this price increase “economic growth” is BS because there has been no comparative increase in living standards. However, when “price” is measured relative to gold, the price of things in the real world has not changed, only the value of the USD has decreased by a factor of 40. Thus the mighty USD is also a demonstrably poor measure of price and should be abandoned. And (of course) the same can be said of every other fiat currency.

Another question is whether fiat currency is (of itself) benign or malignant to the economy. One could list all of the destructive features (inflation, volatility, human behaviour, etc) and then enter endless debate with Keynesians about whether or not something else could be to blame. However it is easier just to look at economies before and after adopting a fiat currency and in particular what happens in the final stages, with examples taken from the Weimar Republic, Zimbabwe and various South American economies. In all cases, the end state is that of total economic collapse, poverty, riots and violence – ultimately caused by a collapse in confidence after years of real world price inflation.  All of which is directly caused by defining price relative to a fiat currency, rather than having it anchored in the real world, Make no mistake, all economies with fiat currencies (which is now every country on Earth) are headed for the same oblivion.

As an aside, the decades long manipulation of the gold price as exposed by (for example) GATA {1] is of critical importance for the continuation of the fiat currency system, because if ever gold was allowed to get away, then fiat currency will have been shown to have been rejected by the real world in favour of gold. See also my previous MineWebarticle [2] on the meaning of permanent gold backwardation, also demonstrating how this process is currently establishing itself. What this means is that investors are now choosing to buy and hold physical gold and ignore the arbitrage profit being offered in the paper futures markets. Furthermore the ever increasing open interest in the futures markets means that the authorities are having to sell an ever increasing amount of “paper gold” into the market in order to keep the price of physical gold under control. Of course this is all just a gigantic game of “musical chairs” with over one hundred pieces of paper claiming each ounce of physical gold. When (not if) the music ends and physical gold surges free from this paper manipulation, you will know that the authorities have lost control and that the end of the fiat currency system is at hand.

IMF’S SDR NOT A SOLUTION

My belief is that authorities understand the problem and are currently working on ways to avoid the pitchforks. But instead of getting a real solution, rumour suggests that we will get a distraction in the form of the SDR (Special Drawing Rights) introduced by the IMF (another bunch of private bankers, royal families and oligarchs) The SDR will be sold as the global saviour, but it will be no such thing. Price will be defined with reference to a basket of fiat currencies possibly also including gold and silver. The proportion of each currency and metal will be calculated and pegged by political decisions. One can therefore predict with absolute certainty the collapse of that system as well – due to the twin problems associated with fiat currencies and humans creating unnatural pegs between elements of a basket. After yet another failure, we might finally return to sound money.

FINDING THE SOLUTION

Having looked at the cause of the problem, I now want to address the solution in some detail. In particular, there are three major considerations:

[1] What should be the definition of “price” in our economic frame of reference, and

[2] How can we then construct the new economy and what changes will occur, and

[3] How can we effect the change with a minimum amount of disruption.

DEFINING PRICE

On the first subject, following Wittgenstein, we must first make an assumption and then let nature confirm or reject. Then (if needed) we can fine tune the assumption until we get it right. Fortunately we are not flying blind, because we know from history what almost worked (Newton’s bi-metal) and what doesn’t work (Keynes’ fiat). Nevertheless I will spend some time on this discussion because there is a lot at stake and we cannot afford mistakes.

We must find something to act as our central reference point from which all other things can be measured on a relative basis. The key is the stability of the relationships between things. Without this central thing, we will need to create and monitor an infinite number of swap rates between everything and everything else (which would provide an exact solution, but cannot be done). Furthermore, as well as acting as the reference price, the thing MUST satisfy each and every one of the following conditions :

[1] Be of the real world and not the construct of human thought, because it is the real world that we are trying to measure and price. Thus we can automatically exclude things like fiat currency and other things like crypto currencies (Bitcoin etc). Although no expert, crypto currencies appear to be a transaction solution rather than a measure of anything and so (unless backed by something real) they can be ruled out as a currency that might lead to price stability and economic certainty.

[2] Be a single thing from the real world and not a basket of things because (following Wittgenstein) a basket involves the creation of unnatural relationships between things, which will inevitably lead to instability (as did Newton’s bi-metal solution). Note that having a basket of floating things (like gold and silver) provides no more benefit than having one central thing and everything floating against it. In fact, all it does is require every good and service to have multiple prices, with each price referenced to each floating element of the basket.

[3] Exist and remain on our planet in roughly the same proportion as everything else. In particular it cannot be so useful (such as silver, platinum and oil) otherwise it may eventually be consumed causing its own price rise to cause a deflation in everything else. Nor can it become obsolete (such as second hand cars) whereby its own price fall will cause a price inflation of everything else.

[4] Be capable of being removed from the economy (and used as money) without effecting the economy. In other words, it must be simultaneously valuable but not useful, which (again) excludes things like silver, platinum and oil. For example, you cannot take a useful thing like air or water out of the economy (and use it as money) without causing human extinction.

[5] Be something whose demand does not vary with quantity (the more the merrier). I believe this is called having a (positive) “constant marginal utility”.

[6] Be perfect for the use as money, which includes all these additional properties:

– A long track record as money, and

– Universally recognized and accepted as money, and

– Owned by the holder, with no attached obligations, and

– Atomically stable, neither growing, decaying nor corroding, and

– Cannot be either manufactured or destroyed, and

– Homogeneous (without flaw), infinitely divisible, easily portable, fungible (the same everywhere), malleable and ductile (for jewellery and coinage), measureable (by weight alone), water-proof, fire-proof, findable and every other property of GOLD.

Furthermore, although the past is no guarantee of the future, one can use correlation analysis to test the past price relationship between “things” and thereby determine which thing has the highest correlation with all other things (in the real world) and therefore which thing is the best measure of price. However there are an infinite number of things to test and some correlations maybe more important than others, whence no one can prove that “gold is the best measure of price”, but my analysis suggests that there is “no better measure of price” in the real world than GOLD.

GOLD STANDARD

We can then make our first approximation and assume that our economic frame of reference should be defined by (Newton with a correction) :

Time – fixed in progression and independent of price

Price – fixed with respect to a unit weight of gold, being independent in time.

The only difference with Newton is that price is defined with respect to gold alone. However, this in no way diminishes the role of silver or anything else. Silver (along with platinum and others) can still be used as a means of payment for goods and services, but they must be allowed to float against gold. Silver, platinum and other things can also become official currency by Government decree, which involves no more work for Government than declaring that gold is money. Indeed, silver coins have been used as money for thousands of years and there is no reason to stop this practice.

The other important question is whether or not price should be independent of time, or be allowed to vary slowly over time (by changing the unit weight of gold). Historically, the practice of “clipping coins” allowed Governments to rob economic wealth and create inflation. However this same process resulted in the “pound” transforming from a pound weight of silver to a pure fiat currency. My strong belief (let nature prove me right or wrong) is that the weight of gold should be held constant over time.

This is supported by historical correlation analysis which suggests that price relationships between gold and other real assets remain time invariant. (See for example the table above). Furthermore, rather than change the weight of gold that represents the currency unit, Governments could (in times of need) introduce additional currencies such as silver, platinum and even fiat currencies.

The last major considerations are that of “convertibility” and “free coinage”, “Convertibility” means that any (paper) representation of the gold currency must be accompanied with a promise to convert that paper into physical gold on demand. “Free coinage” means that the owner of physical gold can convert it into the currency on demand. Together these conditions are required to keep the system honest.

MONETIZING GOLD

Next we consider how to construct this new economy and predict what changes will occur. Within our framework we are free to define “price” with reference to a weight of gold – but what weight and does it matter? Assuming that there are about 200 thousand metric tons of gold above ground and around 200 trillion dollars in various forms, we should probably make each metric ton be worth around one billion dollars and so one can propose the following weights and measures.

Using the new currency symbols GDD (gold dollar) and GDC (gold cent) and using standard metric weights, we can then finally define “price” as :

1 milligram of pure gold                                    = 1 GDD = 100 GDC

1 gram (1,000 milligrams)                                 = One thousand GDD

1 kilogram (1,000 grams)                                  =  One million GDD

1 metric ton (1,000 kilograms)                          =  One billion GDD

1,000 metric tons                                               =  One trillion GDD

On the question of whether the weight matters, the answer is no – all we are doing is adding or subtracting zeros in the definition of GDD. The choice above is made only so that humans who hold (old) dollars can receive the same amount of (new) dollars and thus not “feel cheated” (humans can be irrational and so it is probably best to offer one for one).

With this definition, all other goods and services can be priced by cross-rates. For example, silver (SVR), oil (OIL) and the USD will have price :

SVR  =  [ SVR / GDD ] x GDD                      market defined cross-rate = SVR / GDD

OIL  =  [ OIL / GDD ] x GDD                         market defined cross-rate = OIL / GDD

USD  =  [ USD / GDD ] x GDD                      market defined cross-rate = USD / GDD

From which we can calculate swap rates between goods without the exchange of GDD. For example, someone purchasing OIL with SVR would receive the following amount of oil :

OIL  =  [ OIL / GDD ] x [ GDD / SVR ] x SVR  =  [ OIL / SVR ] x SVR

Market defined cross rates are [ OIL / GDD ] and [ SVR / GDD ]

Implied swap rate is  [ OIL / SVR ]  =  [ OIL / GDD ] x [ GDD / SVR ]

Thus for every market that exists today, we can set up a new market with price measured in GDD rather than the current price unit of that market. In most markets today, price is measured in USD and so conversion will only require the USD to be replaced by GDD. After this occurs one should immediately notice a few things:

[1} Volatility in commodity markets (and other markets such as housing) should decrease dramatically. Because when price is measured by GDD, one real world asset will be quoted relative to another. This statement is backed by historical correlation analysis, although (admittedly) the past is no absolute guide to the future. BUT IF this is correct, we will have achieved the most important feature of the new economic frame of reference – price stability. Conversely this will be the test as to whether the real world confirms or rejects our assumption of the definition of “price”.

[2] Fiat currencies can be expected to continue their march towards zero and this should be clearly visible in the cross rates (such as USD / GDD). This trend will be disturbing for some investors, but it will just be confirmation that fiat currencies are not good measures of price.

[3] Neither physical gold nor GDD units are actually required in transactions, provided there exists cross-rates linking both sides of the transaction to GDD – because the cross rates can be used to create swap rates and thereby fairly exchange goods without GDD.

[4] International trade is conducted with reference to the cross rates for each country’s goods and services, with only the balance of trade settled in GDD units (or other currencies by agreement). Gold standards are known to cause economic expansion, because no country can afford to run a constant trade deficit. This forces countries to work harder and smarter and not waste resources on (stupid) things like wars.

[5] Domestic trade continues as usual, with the local currency backed by either the country’s gold reserves or another reserve linked to gold via a cross rate. For example, Mexico might choose to back its currency with silver. “Cash” can be either gold (or other) coins or a paper representation, provided there is convertibility and free coinage.

My point is that the transfer to a new economy should be seamless because there is no function or transaction that cannot be achieved by having GDD as the central reference price of the economy. Most importantly, goods can be exchanged and banking done with no physical gold changing hands, Thus gold’s most important role is to act as an accounting reference price so that all other things can be priced relative to each other and thereby exchanged on a fair and efficient basis.

The advantage of this system is that when price is referenced to GDD (rather than USD), prices will remain stable in the real world. Confidence in this price stability should then result in human behaviour changing back to long term wealth and job creation rather than short term price speculation. Middle class wealth will recover, because savers in GDD will be able to maintain their purchasing power. However, due to this price stability, Governments may need to (re)introduce “wealth taxes” in place of the current “capital gains taxes”.

CHANGING THE SYSTEM

So far so good, we have defined “price” and shown how to set it up the new economy. But finally we have to find a way to implement the changes with a minimum amount of disruption. From here on this discussion enters the realm of speculation. Wittgenstein urges me to shut up, but I cannot resist the “thought experiment”.

Firstly, without going into the complexities of “game theory”, the country that moves first towards the new GDD system will provide the best outcome for its citizens. This comes from the fact that any citizen in a country not moving will be left holding an ever depreciating fiat currency and hence will experience a loss of wealth relative to the citizens of the country that does move. Furthermore, as soon as one country moves, the inevitable result will be the eventual collapse of all fiat currencies. Which may explain the current warfare against any country that threatens to stray from the unbacked USD system. Because if done successfully, it would cause a chain reaction.

Some countries (like the USA) currently have an unpayable amount of debt and in these cases waiting for a currency collapse may actually be the preferred outcome, because when the currency becomes worthless the debt owed in that currency also becomes worthless. Citizens of these countries should exit their local currency (for the safety of physical gold) as fast as humanly possible.

And (I think) this is why the world is so concerned about the current “Swiss Gold Initiative” – because with gold backing their currency, Swiss citizens will “win” relative to everyone else. Other countries will then be forced to follow or face currency collapse. Conversely, the “Swiss Gold Initiative” may even be a Trojan Horse wheeled in (by the IMF or G20) to collapse the fiat currency system, extinguish all debts and bring about the global currency change – who knows (not me)!

In any case, it would seem that once the process starts, it will evolve rapidly and perhaps the only way authorities can control the outcome is to force a global change, simultaneously. Whence a country (like Switzerland) with a track record in political neutrality, banking, gold storage and gold refining – might receive and hold the world’s physical gold and issue the (above) GDD units in a paper and electronic form. Gold will then have been monetized.

Some observations are:

[1] Only gold can perform this role and be effectively removed from the economy.

[2] The whole world will be moved onto a “global currency” as defined by the GDD. Markets quoting cross rates between fiat currencies and GDD may remain open for awhile, but unless those local currencies become backed by gold (or other), they will depreciate towards zero and eventually disappear.

[3] Some countries currently have a lot of gold and so will be able to offer their (lucky) citizens a healthy exchange rate for their fiat. However other countries will have no gold and therefore will not be able to immediately offer GDD units to its citizens. These countries must then acquire GDD units by selling other commodities at the market cross-rates. Countries with absolutely nothing of value to purchase GDD units must either allow their fiat currency to expire worthless, or go into a GDD deficit situation which they promise to repay in exchange for future production, or the sale of assets (such as land).

[4] Although there might be a global “gold standard”, this should not stop individual countries from being on their own silver or oil standard, so long as there exists cross rates between those commodities and GDD.  The competing currencies should still remain relatively stable with respect to each and only diverge due to gradual changes in the underlying commodity prices. That said, a country backed by lima beans may experience a wilder ride!

CONCLUSION

Our current economy is fatally flawed by an incorrect assumption of the definition of “price”. Newton’s bi-metal currency model worked well for centuries but – following Wittgenstein’s logic – silver should never have been fixed to gold. Once this correction is made, gold becomes the only central reference price and then by calculating cross rates, trade can be conducted in multiple commodities and currencies (including silver). When price is finally defined correctly, we will have greater economic certainty, enabling humans to focus on the longer term, which should result in a positive feedback loop and an ever stronger economy.

But enough, Wittgenstein is now demanding that I shut up. Finally, if anyone wants a middle aged (but still good) mathematician to work on this or any other subject, please contact me as I am currently unemployed and looking for work,

References

[1] GATA  http://www.gata.org/

[2] Fraser Murrell / Mineweb / Permanent gold backwardation = global meltdown ahead

The post Returning to a Gold Standard – Why and How. appeared first on The Sleuth Journal.



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