NOW THE PRICE of gold is over $800 an ounce. How exciting. Just think what your fillings must be worth. When do you think the price will reach $1,000? And when do you think the bubble will burst and the price will start to fall?
This speculative binge is rapidly reviving all of the eccentric economic theories traditionally attached to gold. The central idea usually involves an invisible force, mystical and implacable, that reasserts itself in the world's markets regardless of anything mere men and government might do. The proponents of these theories triumphantly produce calculations demonstrating that the price in gold of a day's labor or a loaf of bread is once again exactly what it was somewhere in Europe sometime two centuries ago. These proofs require great selectivity in data, of course, since the prices of gold, bread and labor have always fluctuated wildly against each other.
Another school of thought takes the rise in gold prices as a fundamental moral judgment against all those people foolish enough to trust paper money that governments can inflate. But the pressure currently inflating the price of gold is coming from a part of the world that has never put much trust in paper money -- or in banks or, for that matter, in governments. Gamblers all around the world have enthusiastically joined in the game. But the tremendous flows the Middle East. It is oil money, in the hands of people frantic to find ways to hold their new wealth.
The Iranian revolution has been a major cause of the latest hysterical phase of the gold rush. It has reminded everyone, but particularly Iran's neighbors, that some governments are less secure than others and, when a government collapses, it sometimes becomes difficult to cash a check. To those who have the closet view of them, the events in Iran argue in favor of wealth that is tangible and portable.
Most governments, including the one here in Washington, have decided to shrug off the escalation of gold prices. Since they can't do much about it anyway, they are wiser not to try. When the price crests and begins to fall -- and that is how the boom will end -- some of the gamblers and hoarders will be badly hurt. But since the gamblers and hoarders are people with no faith in governments, governments have very little repsonsibility to them.