If you’re at all worried about the current global financial situation, here’s what I advise: buy gold. Then buy some more gold. Then buy some gold coins to stash under your bed and in various hiding places known only to yourself. Sovereigns are good if you’re British because, being legal tender, they are not subject to capital gains tax. Oh, and if you’re investing in bullion — which you must — make sure it’s in a spread of locations: London, Hong Kong, Geneva, wherever. That’s because when the shit hits the fan (WTSHTF as we catastrophists fondly abbreviate it), no one has any idea which regimes will be safe and which will be punitively confiscatory as, for example, was dear old F.D. Roosevelt’s when he suddenly took it upon himself to ‘cure’ America’s economic crisis by banning private ownership of gold.
Think I’m sounding over the top here? Well obviously I hope I’m being OTT too. It’s certainly preferable to the alternative, which is that I’m right. And even if I’m wrong, I’d still say gold is looking pretty cheap at the moment. As I write it’s languishing in the $1,500s and there are those who believe that by the end of the year — what with Europe falling off a cliff and America, whatever Ben Bernanke says, heading for QE3 — it may well have breached $2,000 an ounce. But hell, what do I know? I’m just a goldbug and obsessing about gold — how to buy it, how to hold it, how far it has got to go — is what we goldbugs do. I entered the pupal phase of goldbuggery last year, at about the time I read Detlev Schlichter’s Paper Money Collapse and started getting interested in the Austrian school of economics and worried about the inflationary effects of Osborne’s and Bernanke’s money-printing.
It’s only since my recent trip to Oz, though, that I emerged, all shimmery from my pupa — with Shirley Bassey singing ‘Gold-fin-gah’ in the background, probably — into the fully fledged, 24-carat goldbug I am today.
That’s because in Australia gold’s legacy and influence is everywhere. As you travel from Victoria to New South Wales to Queensland, you’re following in the anti-clockwise footsteps of the original gold pioneers: passing the mansions and prosperous townships of those who made it and the graveyards of those who didn’t.
Outside Cairns, a prospector showed me the last fortnight’s pure profit from a mine he discovered two years ago: a dull, yellow misshapen ingot which looked like dross but was worth around $12,000. At a remote survey station in Chillagoe, far north Queensland, I saw the diamond drill cores of rock, some veined shiny green, some speckled silver or gold, which geologists use to assess the viability of new ore bodies from which a lucky few investors will make their fortune but on which many more will lose their shirts.
This is one of the problems with gold. Though there’s still lots and lots of it, all over the world — everywhere from Australia to a certain Greek island with at least two million extractable ounces which the government still, bizarrely, won’t allow to be mined because of pressure from the green lobby — it’s incredibly difficult to find and shockingly expensive to exploit. Only around one in 1,000 of exploratory drillings hit paydirt. The other 999, meanwhile, will have cost their investors many hundreds of thousands of dollars in exploration costs, every cent wasted.
Why gamble against such atrocious odds? Because, like the delightfully dishevelled English expatriate who entertained me in Perth, when you win you win big. He’s got a boysy penthouse apartment in the centre of town full of exceedingly rare books, fine wines and samurai armour; he does what he wants when he wants and bows to no one; when he offers you brandy, he says, offhandedly ‘That one’s $400 a bottle and that one’s $200 a bottle, have what you like, though personally I think the $200 stuff is nicer.’ And he’s not showing off: this is his life — a life where, thanks to the gold he discovered in the 1970s and 1980s, he gets to be rich beyond the dreams of any Goldman Sachs corporate slave, with the added bonus of being able to sleep at night and remaining in full possession of his soul.
Now that I’m back down to earth in grim, cash-strapped old England, I find myself feeling more monumentally pissed off and betrayed than ever by the appalling Gordon Brown’s decision to sell off 395 tonnes of our gold reserves between 1999 and 2002 at a rock-bottom $275 an ounce. The Chinese are surreptitiously building up their reserves; so too are basket cases like Venezuela. Britain, however, now languishes at a mere 17th in the international bullion-owning league table. And when it comes to gold holdings per capita we don’t even make the top 20. (The Swiss come top with — in 2011 figures — $6,000 worth of gold per person; the Lebanese are next; then the Germans. Britain has the lowest per capita holding in the EU.)
An online seller called the Real Asset Company has just launched a campaign to Buy Back Britain’s Gold. If all taxpayers chipped in, apparently, it would cost us each a mere £440. Well I’m game, if the rest of you are. It’s not as though, with Osborne running the Treasury, inflation is going to grind to a halt any time soon. And if ever we’re going to stand a chance of buying ourselves out of captivity by our new insect overlords, I honestly doubt sterling (or greenbacks) will suffice. Paper money’s over. In the future they’ll want the real thing.