WASHINGTON -- One of the many television commercials exhorting viewers to buy gold says solemnly that it is an asset whose value "has never dropped to zero," a boast that surely sets a record for minimalism. Still, the world's appetite for gold as an investment option is intensifying. Last month, India purchased 200 tons of gold at $1,045 an ounce, before the price topped $1,108 on Monday. China, too, may increasingly diversify from paper -- i.e., bonds -- into gold, the price of which, some experienced investors believe, could soar to $2,500 an ounce in three to five years. One reason for all this is U.S. behavior.
India's 2008 GDP was $1.2 trillion, so its $6.7 billion purchase was small beer. It may, however, be a large portent: Gold increasingly looks to investors to be a more reliable store of value than governments' bonds are, especially U.S. bonds as the U.S. government threatens to pile a mammoth health care entitlement onto the nation's Ponzi welfare state, increasing the nation's debt and borrowing.
The fiscal year 2009 budget deficit, triple that of 2008, was 10 percent of GDP and, Lawrence Lindsey says, probable policies will produce deficits of 7 percent of GDP for a decade. Ronald Reagan's worst deficit was 6 percent of GDP, and for only one year.
Lindsey -- former member of the Federal Reserve board of governors and director of George W. Bush's National Economic Council (2001-02) -- says Americans' net worth has dropped at least $13 trillion since the recession began in December 2007. What is to be done?
Americans could suddenly begin saving substantially more, but this would deepen and prolong the recession. Alternatively, America could reflate the value of its assets by printing money. Lindsey says it is already doing that -- printing bonds promiscuously and lending money to banks at negligible rates, money banks can use to buy the bonds. This sharply increases the money supply, which sets the stage either for inflation -- too much money chasing too few goods. Or for recovery-snuffing higher interest rates to try to prevent inflation. Or for something like Japan's lost decade -- banks pouring money into government bonds rather than the real economy.
America, says Lindsey, will not become Weimar Germany, where hyperinflation caused people to rush to stores with satchels of rapidly depreciating currency. But, he adds, no country has successfully behaved the way the United States is behaving.