My friend Oliver has been buying lots gold. For a while, I thought he meant that he was buying stock in companies that mine gold or hold gold as part of a well-balanced portfolio. Nope! He's been buying gold bars, little gold bars about the size of a Skor. I can't remember the exact weight, but they were hefty for their size maybe a quarter-pound each. He's made money on them because the price of gold is way up.
But he's not buying them because they're worth so much. He's buying them because he doesn't trust any other investments. Banks can fail, the dollar can fall, stocks can turn worthless. His art collection may go out of fashion. I won't tell him that his art collection was never in fashion, but I'm pretty sure I saw a cat in his painting of dogs playing poker. Once it got out that he was putting all his savings in mini-ingots, his friends and co-workers have taken to calling him Goldfinger.
"Laugh now," Ollie says, "But you won't be laughing when the real recession hits." The real recession? What does he think we are in now?
Ollie's convinced that things will get worse, that the world's economy will collapse, that someday you won't be able to buy a thing with paper money. And when that day comes, he'll be sitting on his stack of gold like King Midas while the rest of us will be living in a "Mad Max" movie.
"Your money's not going to be worth the paper it's printed on," he says as he lets me handle some of his shiny gold bars. "And keep your hands where I can see them."
"You've changed," I said, trying to figure out how to palm one of the bars without him noticing. This would make a nice wedding band …around my waist! Gold is delightful to touch smooth, cold and solid but then, stroking a stack of hundred-dollar bills would probably feel pretty good, too. I've never touched a wrapped bundle of hundreds, even though I've been led to believe they are falling out the backs of armored trucks on a regular basis. Where's my leather briefcase stuffed with cash?
"So let's say after the crash happens, I come up to you and say, 'Hey mister, can I mow your lawn?' and you say, 'Yes.' How much gold do I charge you? A whole bar seems a little much for an afternoon's work, but a little shaving may be too little. How do you pay your cable bill with your gold bar? How do you pay your electric bill? How much gold does it take to buy a quart of milk?"
I didn't want to tell him, but I'm pretty sure this is why we stopped using gold for money, because it is so hard to change. First, how do you know it's gold? What if it's just something that looks like gold? Would you know the difference between 14-karat gold and 24-karat gold? I don't. Does Goldfinger?
"You don't get it," Ollie said, hauling back the two bars that had somehow inched very close to the edge of the table above my lap. "There won't be any cable bills after the crash. There won't be any electric company. There won't be any lawns to mow. It'll be total chaos. That's why I'm buying gold!"
"Then what good is all the gold?"
"I'll buy food with it."
"If that's your big worry, shouldn't you be collecting cubes of bullion, not gold bullion?"
"You are an idiot," he said.