TGR: But inflation rates don’t seem to reflect the vast amounts of currency that central banks have injected into the U.S., European and other economies. The U.S. inflation rate was 2.93% in January and 2.87% in February. We haven’t seen signs yet either of a hyperinflation or a serious deflation that we were warned would come with quantitative easing (QE). Does that mean QE is working after all?
DC: No. It’s not just the immediate and direct consequences of what they do—everybody loves it when trillions of dollars are created. It feels good to have lots more purchasing media. The problem arises with the indirect and delayed consequences. All these dollars and euros—and Chinese yuan and Japanese yen—that have been created have basically gone into the banks, but the banks are not lending them out. The banks are afraid to lend and a lot of people don’t want to borrow because they’re afraid of taking on more debt. So the dollars that have been created, mostly invested in government paper, sit on the banks’ balance sheets. They are not circulating in the economy at the moment. That’s why prices aren’t skyrocketing right now.
That’s point number two, though. Point number one is that I wouldn’t trust those inflation figures in the first place. The governments of Western Europe and the U.S. fudge inflation figures as certainly as the Argentine government fudges them, just less overtly and outrageously. They do that because they want to keep the perception of inflation down; they don’t want people panicking, which is a pity, because the public should urgently do something to protect their capital. They also don’t want to see Social Security payments and other payments that are tied to the consumer price index go up. They don’t have the tax revenues to pay for them and will have to print even more money, which just exacerbates the problem. Official inflation numbers are unreliable; only somebody very naïve—like a TV anchorperson—could possibly believe them.
If you think of inflation as an increase in the money supply above the increase in real wealth—which is actually what the word means—the inflation rate is actually quite high at the moment. Real wealth is being created at lower rates than it historically has been, while the money supply is increasing tremendously. It’s just a question of when that inflation rate manifests itself on a retail level. You’ve got to think like a real economist, not a political hack like Joseph Stiglitz or Paul Krugman. You have to see not just the immediate and direct consequences of something, but the indirect and delayed ones.
TGR: Given that this is an election year in the U.S., won’t the government do everything possible to maintain a stable market and stop inflation?
DC: Sure, the government wants things stable. I have no doubt it is trying to keep the stock market up. It wants the stock market to stay high because pension funds and insurance companies and the public at large are invested in the stock market. It wants interest rates low, although artificially low interest rates are an economic disaster in that they encourage people to borrow more and save less. It would prefer to see precious metals, and all other commodities, at low levels. The argument is made that the governments of the world, especially the U.S. government, are manipulating the prices of gold and silver to keep them down, because when they increase, it’s like financial alarm bells going off.
But they can’t control the prices of the precious metals. In the real world, cause has effect. When you create trillions of currency units, eventually the price of those currency units relative to other things will go down. That’s called inflation. Whether he’s lying or he really believes it, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said he can control the levels of inflation. When it gets too high, he thinks he can rein it in somehow.
The current world monetary system is going to come undone. That’s my prediction, and I’m betting on it massively, personally.
TGR: You’ve talked about the possibility of abandoning paper currency altogether and going to a digital system.
DC: The most important thing is to get the government out of money. There should be a high wall between the state and religion and an equally high wall between the state and the economy. I don’t even like to talk about what governments “should” do as far as money is concerned because the governments shouldn’t be involved in money—period. Money is a medium of exchange and a store of value. It shouldn’t be a political football, nor should it be used as an indirect form of taxation, which is what inflation is. It should be a pure, 100% market phenomenon. Central banks should, therefore, be abolished. Paper currency should cease to exist—except as a receipt for money held on deposit. Historically, that’s how it originated.
You could use any kind of commodity as money, but gold has proven since the dawn of civilization to be uniquely well suited for use as money. It’s a market, which is to say a voluntary, phenomenon. Whether you represent that gold with bank notes printed by individual banks or by digital currency—which I’m sure the world is going to—makes no difference. But having the state in charge of currency is idiotic.
TGR: You’ve written about China moving away from the dollar. Do you see that happening gradually or all of a sudden? And would it be in favor of its own currency or more investment in gold? What impact would that have on gold prices?
DC: First of all, I think the nation-state as a form of organization is on its way out, and that a 100 years from now people will look back at countries like China and the U.S. the way we look back at medieval kingdoms today. In the meantime, the dollar is important because it’s the numéraire for trade all over the world. At the same time, fewer and fewer people trust it, and they increasingly realize that it’s the unbacked liability of a bankrupt government.
Eventually, it’s going to be replaced by something else. India and Iran are trading between each other using gold and oil. Why use a piece of paper issued by a hostile and unreliable third party? The Russians and the Chinese can see how crazy it is to trade between each other using dollars, which all have to clear in New York. But people are still accustomed to using currencies issued by nation-states, and the U.S. dollar is everywhere and is therefore convenient. But it’s a hot potato. People no longer trust it. I suspect the Chinese yuan will replace the dollar gradually—assuming the Chinese don’t destroy the yuan as well. They’re also creating trillions of the things to keep the economic bubble in China from imploding.
Before the Chinese yuan can replace the dollar, people must have confidence in it. The best way they can gain confidence in it is if the volume of yuan is limited and redeemable by the issuer in something real, something tangible. That’s going to be gold. So I expect China will continue buying large amounts of gold to back its currency. China is already the world’s largest gold producer. Considering that only about 6–7 billion ounces of gold have ever been mined in all the world’s history, China alone could drive the price of gold much higher.
TGR: At your Recovery Reality Check summit in Florida April 27–29, you’ll be talking about how business cycles have been turned on their heads. Is this the time for investors to sit tight, making only small adjustments to portfolios, or must they take more drastic action to protect their wealth or, better yet, profit from volatility?