Monday, July 20, 2015

Goldbugs: Occam's Razor and Value

So, it looks like gold is trending down. Even the Journal published an article calling gold a pet rock.

This makes me think about my father, who over Christmas made me feel his ingots of silver, and who listens to a lot of Fox News in his free time. I have to tell you, holding that silver gave me some very strange feelings. It was shiny, yes, but the thing is that it was very heavy – much more than I would have guessed just by looking at it. There’s a very atavistic feeling satiated by holding that density that is hard to replicate.

But that doesn’t really speak to value. It is shiny and heavy, but what is it worth? There’s no future cash flows to discount. There’s the well-known issue that there are no dividends and a carrying cost. Basically it is a hedge for when the world crashes. Right now, what is it worth? Whatever the next guy will pay you, since it at least has some use value. Looking at the CME, what the next guy will pay is around twelve hundred bucks an ounce. That’s off from what it was at the height of the last time everyone was buying in gold by like a third. That’s a lot.

Hold on. That’s a lot if you’re buying and selling it, hoping holding it as part of your portfolio.

What’s gold worth now is assuming that its continued use value and the speculative part will hold forever, with no major changes in demand or supply. But what if demand changes? That means the gold held will increase in value if it goes up. What can make demand change? A change in the financial climate. It can be held as a hedge against what the preppers et al call “When the shit hits the fan”. Now, I am skeptical of all the collapse scenarios that I have seen on “Doomsday Preppers,” but here’s the thing – what do we know of the chances of total societal collapse and ultimate valuelessness of the dollar? There’s not much to go on. I would say it’s a one in whatever chance, where the goldbugs and the preppers and etc would say that I was off by a factor of ten or a hundred. The problem is that neither of us have much to go on. The sample size of societal collapse is small, and not very good for making predictions.

So here’s the thing. No matter who’s right, they still have something that they can trade for things as itself or if converted to the coin of the realm first. But there’s a huge payoff if they are right. (This ignores the whole weird fantasy thing where it seems some people want society to collapse just for their vindication.) I’m not willing to make the bet, but I shouldn’t judge others who are. Heck, I still play the lottery when the jackpots get big – someone’s gotta win it. It just goes to show that consistent rationality is hard to enact, especially when it comes to long odds and big numbers.