Monopoly money vs. virtual money

I argued in a previous post that when banks create money electronically we shouldn’t call it “printing money”; the metaphor doesn’t adequately describe a situation in which most money is not printed but created electronically on the balance sheets of the major financial institutions then passed on to the public through electronic transfers, credit cards, debit cards, and the like.  Most money is not printed–it is a virtual reality that people accept in exchange for very real goods and services.  In my view, this situation is analogous to a game of monopoly.  During the game, the money is received in the form of salaries, rents, gifts, and bonuses, and in turn it can be used to pay rent, mortgages, penalties, and taxes.   In the end, when the game is over, all the money goes back into the box and regresses to its intrinsic value of zero.  But Monopoly is just a game, you say? But so is our virtual economy.  It’s a game we are playing with non-real money which has no intrinsic value, not even the paper its printed on, because the central banks don’t bother to print much of it anymore.

Monopoly games last about 1-3 hours.  It is not certain how long virtual economy game will last, but it won’t be much longer with Ben Bernanke keeping interest rates at virtually nothing and creating virtual money ex nihilo–eventually the public will stop accepting it in exchange for real goods and services.  That will be the end of the game, and at real money with intrinsic value, like gold and silver, will become the norm.  And we shouldn’t make the mistake of saying that gold has no intrinsic value because it can’t be eaten.  That is a fallacious argument created by fascists trying to confuse the issue.  Gold and silver have intrinsic value by definition.

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Intrinsic value and the world-wide Nouriel Roubini bubble

Nouriel Roubini warned the world one year ago that gold was very likely in a bubble at just below $1200.

Gold prices, you will have noticed, have been rising sharply, breaching the $1,000 (U.S.) barrier and, in recent weeks, rising toward $1,200 an ounce and above. “Gold bugs” argue that the price could top $2,000. But the recent price surge looks suspiciously like a bubble, with the increase only partly justified by economic fundamentals.

Roubini has a PhD and is a professor of economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business. But still he writes that gold has no “intrinsic value”:

But, since gold has no intrinsic value, there are significant risks of a downward correction.

I found it remarkable that an economist didn’t have the slightest clue of the meaning of the term “intrinsic value”: an instrument of currency is said to have “intrinsic value” based upon the market value of the medium on which it is transmitted.  Since gold had a market value of nearly $1200 per oz, it had an intrinsic value of nearly $1200 per oz.  Since paper on that day had much less value, then dollars printed on paper had less intrinsic value than had it been minted on gold.  I therefore responded on the Globe and Mail forum as follows:

There seems to be a world-wide Roubini bubble. All his cautions are justified because in a bull market any asset class may be overbought and enthusiasm will temporarily wane. But it remains a long-term bull market for gold because there is already inflation, quite the opposite of what Roubini claims: Food, energy, and real estate (at least in Canada) are on the rise because of the “liquidity”. A “massive wave of liquidity” is a sudden excessive supply of money itself, which is another way of saying “inflation”.

Roubini is misguided about the meaning of “intrinsic value”. Gold is and has been, throughout human history, the very essence of intrinsic value; gold has never needed anything to back it, but has been used to back other kinds of money, and it maintains its value better than many other asset classes.

He is mocking us all and seeing if anyone out there will believe him. Ha ha, very funny Mr. Roubini.

A certain Anton B. Nym responded in agreement with Roubini:

Gold truly has very little, almost no, “intrinsic value”. It isn’t used in daily life; you can’t eat it, burn it, wear it to stay warm and dry, build a shelter from it, or even make much in the way of tools with it. (Though it is handy in the manufacture of electronics and a few esoteric processes.) Historically gold’s value comes from its malleability and lustre as well as its ease of refinement and relative scarcity. Whatever value we invest in gold is mainly esthetic and traditional… and thus subject to change by whim and fad. At a grand an ounce, and with the world economic situation gradually improving, I don’t see the current fad lasting much longer.

I responded to this reader of the Globe and Mail as follows:

Anton P. Nym: Your view of “intrinsic value” is far too utilitarian. Roubini is an extremist who’s gone off the deep end on this point. Gold has no intrinsic value? Give me a break.

Gold is beautiful to look, easy to forge, very malleable, and never tarnishes. It is rare and is the subject of metaphor and poetry. Many things that you can’t eat, burn, build a shelter or even make tools with have great value. Consider the song, “Happy Birthday” has made the owner of its rights millions of dollars in royalties. And what value has that except that it has become the tradition to sing it at the joyous occasion of celebrating one’s passage into another year of life. Small amounts of gold next to my wife’s heart have reminded her of my love for her and have made her feel good about herself. That is invaluable to me. Try giving your wife a barrel of oil on the occasion of your wedding anniversary and see if she says, “O thank you so much for giving me something with intrinsic value!”

Well, with gold at over $1370 a year later, I suppose Roubini is still waiting for the gold bubble to pop.  Don’t get your hopes up Prof. Roubini!

I guess the opinion editor thought that my rebuttal of Roubini and his ilk was witty (page no longer available at the globe, here is a screen snip).