Is Gold Money?

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Is gold money? Many would say so, including owners of the top-level domains GoldIsMoney.com and GoldIsMoney.info. A web search returns 18,000 additional affirmative responses. If you want to start a fight with a gold bug, take the opposite view.

But is it so?

To answer the question of whether gold is money requires a definition. This one, from Wikipedia, is typical:

Money is anything that is generally accepted in payment for goods and services and in repayment of debts. The main uses of money are as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value.

Wikipedia refers to three properties of money. However, according to the Austrian economist Carl Menger, its acceptability in trade is the defining property. While money undoubtedly does serve as a store of value and a unit of account, these properties are derivative, not definitional properties. The reason that a medium of exchange necessarily is also a store of value is the anticipation of its exchange value in the future.

On this point Menger wrote,

[I]t appears to me to be just as certain that the functions of being a "measure of value" and a "store of value" must not be attributed to money as such, since these functions are of a merely accidental nature and are not an essential part of the concept of money.

Using the above definition, the question of whether any particular good is or is not money, can be posed in this way: is the good in question accepted as the final means of payment for transactions?

At present, in the developed world, nearly every nation has its own money or belongs to a currency union, such as the EU. Some nations in the developing world use the US dollar. In highly inflationary environments, the local currency is often spontaneously rejected in favor of the dollar or another foreign currency. Hardly anywhere do we find gold generally accepted as a means of payment. So gold must fail the definitional test of moneyness.

Is this the end of the argument (and so the end of a very short article)? Not quite. Gold is not money, but it has most of the desirable properties of money, and the process by which it became money in the past gives some clues about how it may become money once again.

Read the rest of the article

Robert Blumen [send him mail] is an independent software developer based in San Francisco.

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