I wrote on Sunday that gold is a lousy hedge against inflation fears, but an excellent Pawel Morski post reminds us that it’s not a totally useless investment. Gold is, essentially, a hedge against total collapse and breakdown. If you compare gold as an investment to stocks, gold looks terrible over the long term if you look at stock markets that have a long record of continual operation. But “compared with shares in pre-revolutionary China or pre-war Poland, gold returns look pretty good.”
You can smuggle gold. You can hide it. You can bury it in the backyard and dig it up 25 years later when the political system has changed and be pretty confident that it’ll still be considered a precious metal. Even in a world of yearslong winters and dragons and undead monsters, people want gold.
And that’s why, as Joe Weisenthal says, the collapse in gold prices over the past week seems like good news. When rich investors want to put their money in stock markets, that’s essentially a sign that they think complex, law-bound patterns of peaceful human interaction are likely to hold up and lead to some kind of useful undertaking. When rich investors want to put their money in gold,* that’s essentially a sign that they think it’s important to hedge against total political breakdown.
Correction, April 15, 2013: This post originally said investments in the stock market are a hedge against political catastrophe instead of investments in gold.