A New Gold Standard?

A reader asks, what is the significance of the reported moves by the central banks of China, India, Russia and perhaps other countries to increase their gold reserves? Why are China, India and Russia moving to increase the percentage of their reserves held in gold as opposed to foreign currencies such the dollar and euro? Could the moves of these countries to increase their gold reserves point to a possible revival of the international gold standard in some form?

The answer to the first question is that these countries are nervous about the future of all paper currencies. During the first phase of the crisis of 2007-09, the dollar fell not only against gold but also against the euro. Naturally, countries increased the percentage of euros in their reserves, since it seemed like a good bet against the falling dollar.

Then came the sovereign debt crisis in Europe that assumed acute form just a month or so ago. The euro plunged against the dollar. But the dollar is not looking too good itself. While the dollar was soaring against the euro, it was slipping against gold, the money commodity. For the first time, the dollar price of gold inched above $1,200. Unlike paper currencies, gold is a commodity. And like all commodities, its value is determined by the amount of labor socially necessary to produce it under the prevailing conditions of production.

With the world’s gold mines facing growing depletion, the value of gold for the foreseeable future seems a little more certain than the future value of any paper currency, whether the dollar, euro or yen. No matter how bad things get, gold cannot be “run off the printing presses.” New gold can be produced and the existing supply increased only by the slow process of the labor of workers in the gold mines and in the gold refining industry.

Does this mean that the international gold standard is about to be restored? The answer for the immediate future is a definite no. The three countries that are reportedly moving to increase their gold reserves are not imperialist countries. Indeed, these countries have few gold reserves. The great bulk of the gold that is held by governments or central banks is held by the governments of the United States and the European satellite imperialist countries such as Germany, France and Italy.

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