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Video transcript
In this playlist, we've been constructing a monetary or banking system that reasonably-- in the simplified form, approximates the system we're in. So we said, OK, we need a banking system. And we went the fractional reserve route. We said, we'll take deposits, but we realize that most of the deposits just sit there. People really don't use them so let's re-lend out some of-- 90% or 50% of the deposit-- some amount. So we have to keep some fraction aside as reserves and that way we can use that money to lend more, but in the process, we create a multiplier effect and create money. So that's what we described; a fractional reserve system. And when we talk about reserves, what we originally talked about reserves was gold. It was gold based. We started off with the farmers. They had their gold. Gold was the unit of exchange from primitive times. It was the first agreed upon medium, and people kept with that. And then we eventually showed that in a fractional reserve system when you have this multiplier effect and you become kind of an advanced Western industrial economy, to some degree the gold might just sit in the central bank vaults and just kind of provide this kind of confidence in the system, but really, it does nothing there. It just provides a confidence. And at some point we show-- I think it was in the last video-- that you can actually just go off the gold standard and you could go onto a non-hard currency-- or not-backed by gold. And the point of that is really to get to where we are today and to show that it isn't crazy. There's a lot of-- I guess you could call them conspiracy theorists who think that there was kind of a negative intent behind going off of the gold standard and that it was somehow stealing money. And you know what? I'm not 100% sure that they're not wrong, but I'm just saying since then, it's not like we've had wealth destruction and that we've turned into some type of post-apocalyptic society. Economic growth has been pretty fast. There's been innovation. Productivity has increased. So at least as far as I can tell, it seems like you can have a reasonable economic system that's not backed by gold, that's actually backed by the actual wealth, where the wealth is the productive capacity of a country. So, not backed by gold. And that's where we got to in the last video. I think I struck a nerve a little bit because the gold really isn't fundamentally doing something and it really is just a medium of exchange. And some people said, how can you say that? Gold is definitely worth something. There's no reality in which gold cannot be worth something. Gold controls other assets. So it it's good to, I think, one, think about what other routes we could've taken down this banking system evolution tree. And then also think about-- I guess, revisit the notion of gold itself. So if we just think about-- let's revisit gold first because I think that's what a lot of people care about. So there's two things that I was drawing a difference between. And it's a philosophical difference, but I think it's an important one. It really helps, I guess, get a handle on things in the world. So there's money and then there's wealth-- and this is tricky because at the end, these are just definitions and definitions take on different meanings as time goes on. I looked up wealth in Wikipedia and it gave the Adam Smith definition-- from The Wealth of Nations-- and he talks about wealth as the land and-- I think it was the land and labor that produce utility for humans or something of that sort. So essentially his definition is, wealth would be things like land, it would be food, it would be shelter, it'd be transportation, it would be, I don't know, it would be entertainment to some degree, right? That provides some utility. It makes us happier. Or it could be things that help produce these things like factories or-- who knows what else-- computers, things that help us produce all of these things more efficiently. And if you stay in that mindset, money is not wealth. Money is just a medium of exchange for wealth. You could say money has value. The value of money really is the oil or the lubrication of the economy. Without any form of money, you would have to be bartering. If I was a a home builder and I wanted to get bread, I would have to exchange a house for, I don't know, 10,000 loaves of bread, which just is not practical. Instead, I can exchange it for money and then later exchange that money for bread. And within this money medium of exchange context, there's different types of money, right? There's paper money. There's hard currency, et cetera. And gold would fall under this context. And then there's a fundamental question: Is gold fundamentally, intrinsically, worth more than paper money? And I guess it goes to just, what do you think is going to happen? I mean, the benefit or the negative of gold or a lot of hard currencies is that it's scarce. And by it being scarce, it's not like you can just print this stuff and there's always going to be a set supply of it. And so if someone took a negative spin on it, scarcity would mean less flexible. Or if you took a positive spin on it, you could say it can't be manipulated. And both of these are probably true to some degree, right? But that's what it is. It's just a scarce unit of exchange. And so I'm not saying that gold will one day lose its ability to control some of these things or be exchanged for some of these things. I'm just saying that money or the unit of exchange is fundamentally different than these things that actually provide utility. I mean, gold does have some applications. Maybe you say it provides entertainment in the form of jewelry. Maybe does provide some utility. It can be used as fillings or in some industrial or electronic applications, but primarily it's a unit of exchange. And as a unit of exchange, it helps just facilitate the transactions amongst wealth and helps the economy allocate resources efficiently. Now, paper money is not scarce, right? It's controllable. And so you could take a negative or positive spin on that, right? You could say it's flexible. That would be the positive spin on it. Or you could say it could be manipulated. And there are times in history where many governments, just kind of push for populist agendas or to somehow try to defer problems maybe until the next guy shows up, they did manipulate currencies. And that did lead to hyperinflation and eventually the paper money becomes worthless, but then there's other examples where the paper money, for the most part, really does retain its value. So that's another thing to think about. And so just going back to the question of whether gold will or will not lose its value, that's just really-- I mean, what is it going to lose its value relative to and what would be the catalyst for it? So a lot of people right now, they'll say, the dollar-- there's going to be hyperinflation because the Fed is being so proactive, so I'm going to buy gold. And they might be right. I'm not sure about that. If I knew about that I would go and speculate on gold myself. But the main thing in any type of investment is to realize that you're making a bet on what human beings will do, what the Federal government will do. And just as an example, in real terms, if you adjust it for today's dollars, gold in 1980 was-- this is in inflation adjusted dollars-- I think it was on the order of $2,400, right? So even today, even with all of this talk-- I guess it's 2009 now-- even with all this talk about hyperinflation, the Fed being overly aggressive and us pumping up the money supply and the Fed's balance sheet expanding-- even today, gold-- in today's terms-- this is $2,400 in today's terms. I think it's at $840 or something. And back in 1980, a very reasonable person could have said, my God, we have hyperinflation, we just got through these oil shocks, inflation is going through the roof-- inflation was already much more rampant than it has been in recent memory-- and you're like, boy, the dollar's going to be worthless before we know it. I'm just going to buy gold, although-- what should gold be worth? Should it be worth $24,000? Should it be worth $2 million? Who knows? Does gold just go to infinity in terms of dollars or does the dollar just go to zero? So someone could've made a very reasonable argument back then that they should get out of their bank accounts and convert it all to gold and they wouldn't have been able to predict that Paul Volcker would show up in the early '80s and increase interest rates despite all of the political pressure to maybe do the opposite and he got inflation under control. And then by-- what was it? By the late '90s, in today's terms, gold was-- I think in the $200 range or it might've been even lower. We'll say approximately $200. And even if that person said, even in the late '90s, I'm going to hold to my bet and keep holding gold, it would've taken-- if they'd had it all the way to today, they still would have been better off in 1980 keeping their money in a bank account that gets more interest than inflation. So if you just got 3% or 4% on your bank account starting in 1980, you still would have been better off than holding gold-- even though there was a very credible argument for inflation at that time. So it's just a very, very hard thing to predict. And with any of these things where you're really just betting on the medium of exchange, it's very hard to price it. It's very hard to say what that unit of exchange really is. So now gold has ran up from the late '90s to $840. It's based on a lot of people thinking that the dollar's going to lose its value, et cetera. It's completely possible. We might have an irresponsible government. Inflation looks like it's under control right now, but who knows what happens in a year or two? Maybe all this liquidity starts to get a multiplier effect and the dollar gets debased and gold jumps up to $8,000. Then those people just have made a great bet, but maybe inflation isn't the problem. Maybe it's deflation and maybe people don't lose faith in the currency. Maybe a Paul Volcker-like character shows up and tackles inflation and then gold goes back to $200. But the bottom line here is that it's really hard to predict because it's actually not generating utility itself, it's a measure of utility. But anyway, I don't want to fixate on that too much, but it's an interesting discussion. But anyway, just going back to the original thing, there's other ways that we could have gone down the evolutionary path of banking systems. I just wanted to go over the path that we've gone. Instead of a fractional reserve, you could have a full reserve system. That's-- instead of me taking a deposit and saying that you can demand the deposit at any given point, but still lending 90% of it out-- that's what I do in the fractional reserve-- I would tell you, 90% of your money, you can't take it out tomorrow. It's going to be locked in for six months. It'd be like a CD and the money that you want to have tomorrow, I'm just going to put it aside, you're not going to get any interest on it, and you might have to even pay me a little bit of money to keep it safe and to be able to access it from an ATM. That's completely fine. Someone could argue that this is less flexible. That would be the negative spin on it. But then the positive spin on it is maybe it's less subject to manipulation. Or maybe there will be a few less booms and busts, right? Maybe these bubbles won't form. I'm not so sure about that, but I think it's a reasonable argument. And then even within full reserve, we could have gone gold or not gold. And once again, that would have just been a question about how much flexibility you have. The most restrictive system would be a full reserve system based on some type of hard currency that can't be printed or can't be controlled by humans to some degree. Or you could have something that is printed and then to some degree this could be manipulated a little bit. And just like on the fractional reserve-- fractional reserve backed by gold-- little less flexible, but maybe that's good. Little less game-able as well. Anyway, I just wanted to give you this kind of overview of everything. Because I think I maybe struck some nerves in the last time. I didn't want to in any way insult gold and I don't think that tomorrow gold will be worthless. I just wanted to make it very clear that from a philosophical point of view, there's a difference between gold and the things that it can be exchanged for, just as there is a difference between money or-- any kind of money-- paper money and the things that it can be exchanged for. And in general, I think gold does have a special place relative to any other hard currencies. Relative to diamonds, or nanotubes, or anything else-- and that's just because it has a history, right? From the beginning of recorded history, people used gold as a medium of exchange, so it's almost ingrained in our cultural DNA and that's what gives it its robustness as a unit of exchange, but other than that, it's really no different than diamonds, or carbon nanotubes, or moon rocks. Anyway, I've used up all my time. I'll see you in the next video.