Gold-Backed Stablecoins: Bridging the Gap Between Crypto- Gold (Part 3)

Bitcoin.me Educational Video by Three Piece Suit Productions LLC, Michael Adamo, Dan Donaldson is licensed under CC-BY-NC 4.0

The Benefits of Gold-Pegged Stablecoins?

Most of the white papers of the existing gold-tied stablecoins exalt the perks of digital currency backed by the world’s most enduring monetary commodity. Many claim the benefits of  1:1 token to gold-backinglow transaction feesa safe-haven hedge against instability and inflationlow buy-in requirementslow transactional costs for people living in remote areas, and the positive aspects of combing blockchain technology (convenience, decentralization, and honest record keeping) with the enduring value proposition of gold. While all these qualities are maybe enticing, the best way to demonstrate the superiority of golden stablecoins would be to compare them to other similar alternatives. 

Standard Cryptocurrency vs. The Midas of Digital Money

The most notable difference between Bitcoin and a stablecoin like Tether Gold would be the value proposition. Jeffery Tucker was bold enough to claim that the use-value of Bitcoin was a combination of trust (immutable transaction and a public ledger )and a universally applicable payment system structure. Tucker’s interpretation of the Austrian Regression Theorem (p. 407) is audacious, but can a concurrent use-value be equated to a past use value? Such an inquiry may be obtusely pedantic. However, what if a form of money could not only have the trust of a blockchain and internationally fluid payment system conjoined with the storied prior use history of gold? This may very well prove to be a superior form of money.

Beyond the intrinsic value of a gold collateralized cryptocurrency, the price stability of gold is far superior to that of Bitcoin, the highest valued digital coin on the market. As previously mentioned uncollateralized cryptocurrencies are highly volatile( 81 percent annualized for Bitcoin), with wildly fluctuating values. Some commentators have claimed that established gold-backed stablecoins such as Pax Gold have a lower degree of volatility when compared to unbacked cryptocurrencies. However, the degree of price fluctuation can also be attributed to how the currency is managed by the firm holding the gold. It would be shrewd of consumers to look for purveyors of stablecoins offering full reserve (1:1) redemption policies or limits on the capacity (to avoid depreciation). Even if an institution has lower reserve requirements, judicially implementing option clauses to prevent bank runs can help maintain customer confidence. 

Gold-Backed Stablecoins and Gold ETF Funds

Gold Stablecoins are frequently compared to Gold ETF Funds which are the darling of derivatives markets. Despite the criticisms of experts, there are some advantages that gilded Stablecoins hold over ETFs. Gold ETFs are essentially investment funds possessing gold-related assets. One key attribute distinguishing ETFs from their blockchain-based cousins is the fact that “..most ETFs, upon redemption, do not pay out by providing the precious metal; they instead provide an investor with a cash equivalent..”. In terms of liquidity, this may be a bit more simplified than cashing out a share of a gold-backed stablecoin token, as most stablecoins redeem in gold specie. However, if the point is to obtain money of “high intrinsic” value, the ETFs have to trade easy liquid for lesser money (fiat currency), in return. It would be dishonest not to bring up that gold-tied stablecoins do have counterparty risks, but that is a chance anyone takes with any third party holding precious commodities in their care. 

ETFs are purely intended to function as a speculative asset, while in contrast, the smooth settlement and distributed ledger and nationally agnostic nature of blockchain structure make tokens like Pax Gold or Tether Gold better suited for use as a medium of exchange. In all honesty, this will probably best bet for re-establishing a gold standard in the post-Bretton Woods era. The political interests of Federal Reserve officials, banks, and politicians are too embedded in the empty promises of easy money policies of the post-2008 U.S. Monetary regime. The temptation lurks for utilizing Quantitative Easing, bent beyond purely macroeconomic objectives (full employment, price stability), to fund the ends of fiscal policy. (Fiscal QE). The temptation of gesturing such a powerful bargaining chip such as open purse strings would make the idea of a fixed money supply more of an obstacle than a virtue. The number of people who stand to benefit from the current monetary policy of using collateralized debt as money makes a gold standard wide-eyed opium dream. Any transition to gold-backed currency; must come from a private currency; no government would ever revert to such a barbarous relic. It doesn’t matter even if the “End the Fed” crowd gets Ron Paul or Dave Smith in the Whitehouse, a meat grinder of the political process will drown out any monetary reforms. 

The Benefits Over Physical Gold

Beyond the benefits of tokenized gold lending itself as a medium of exchange from blockchain technology, it is worth noting that most transactions are now digital. The ease, portability, and divisibility of a digital version of gold are hard to beat; versus lugging around cumbersome bars or pressed coins or employing costly storage solutions. Like ETF exchanges, gold exchanges or reputable storage facilities may not be accessible in rural areas. There is an affordability factor; instead of buying by the gram, ounce, bar, or coin, investors can purchase a fraction of a coin for as little as $1. They are reducing the logistical and monetary costs of investing in gold. 

Time to Restore the Gold Standard- Part III

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One of the defining arguments for justifying a gold standard is that it guards against inflation. What is inflation? Inflation is the depreciation in a currency’s purchasing power over time, increasing the nominal prices of goods and services. A gold standard combats inflation due to the limited quantity of gold. The cause of inflation is the introduction of money currency into the economy. Abiding by the immutable law of Supply and Demand, the more of a commodity we have, the lower its value will be, which also applies to money. A principle that was demonstrated in the currency crisis afflicting Weimar Germany. The massive supply of German Marks leads the country to experience hyperinflation. The German mark became virtually worthless as a medium change. At the height of this financial disaster, a loaf of bread cost $100 billion! Right before the German mark collapsed. 

The astronomical prices and economic penury caused by hyperinflation is the most extreme outcome of overprinting fiat currency. There are several other less severe consequences of inflation. For instance, inflation reduces the incentives for people to save money. If your savings are withering away by the continuous erosion of inflation, there is no in leaving your money in a savings account. One way many wealthy entrepreneurs avoid the stealth tax of inflation is through investments. Real estate, business startups, bonds, stocks, and securities have the potential to increase in value. In comparison, an inflationary dollar can only decrease in value. The stock market may be a gamble, but hedging on a fiat currency is a losing strategy. 

The customer suffers dearly due to the harmful effects of inflation. The most obvious consequence is inflation resulting in higher prices. Functioning as a paradox because one would expect prices to decline because of increased efficiency from technological innovation. Since inflation increases the price of all goods including input the price of consumer goods rises. A continuous increase in the money supply also results in a “cheapen” of consumer goods. Producers feeling the pinch of inflation on productions goods cannot directly transfer these costs to the consumer. However, producers elect to reduce portion sizes or reduce overall product quality. Restaurants using downgrading the grade of meats they serve, readymade food producers reducing packaging sizes, clothing manufactures using less durable fabrics. Not only are we paying more for everyday goods, but we are also paying more for inferior goods!

The inflationary monetary policy enabled by a fiat money standard impacts more than thrift and prices. Money creation being disconnected from the constrain of fixed assets backing the currency has led to several troubling practices in macroeconomics. One of the most notable examples has been the manipulation of interest rates. Typically interest rates are artificially lowered to encourage consumption during economic lulls. Achieved through expanding the money supply, with the injection of liquidity it becomes less expensive to lend money (remember the concept of supply and demand). Even exponents of this tactic acknowledge that this alteration to the interest rate is only temporary. Interest rates below the market rate are unsustainable. Influencing people to makes investments that they cannot afford at natural interest rate levels, creating economic bubbles. Those who can no longer afford the real interest rates end up defaulting on their investments. One of the most salient examples in the recent history of such disastrous collective malinvestment was the 2008 Housing Crisis. The housing market and adjacent industries were decimated by the burst bubble. Overall, resulting in over 2 million foreclosures in 2008 alone. Demonstrating the hazards of institutionally endorsed market distortions that could only be executed on a pervasive scale under a fiat currency standard!

The tight constraints of a currency pegged to a precious metal have often been expressed as a concern. Frequently, being used as an argument against a gold standard. Particularly the need for liquidity during a supply shock. It could be theoretically justifiable to have some flexibility in the money supply to fund unexpected expenditures. One example being emergency funding for implementing measures to combat COVID-19. However, the purse strings have been loose for decades. Featuring only brief periods of modest austerity measures implemented. The inexhaustible need for more government funding has developed into a deeply rooted dependency. That not only adversely impacts the character of our governing institutions but also that of the citizens. The people begin to demand more entitlement programs. Typically, with little regard for the costs of such initiatives. Arguable making inflationary monetary policy cleverly camouflaged form of fiscal illusion. The American people already have social security and several other federal entitlement programs, but this is not enough! Now universal health care and free college tuition are mainstream policy talking points. Illustrating America’s growing and insatiable appetite for publicly-funded entitlement programs. Simultaneously, displaying the hideous character flaws of thievery, profligacy, and gluttony.

College: The Opportunity Cost Not Worth Subsidizing

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Despite all of the arguments for attend college, earning a college degree is not without risks.  Not every degree holds the same amount of salability on the job market.  Clearly a degree in engineering will have more utility than a Bachelors in Gender Studies. The opportunity cost of the time spent in college needs to be considered. The student actively forgoes opportunity for hands-on job training when they elect to attend college. Mirroring the costs of an unpaid apprenticeship detailed by the near forgotten French Economist Richard Cantillon (1680-1734) in his seminal work An Essay on Economic Theory.

If his father has him taught a trade, he loses his assistance during the time of his apprenticeship and is obligated to clothe him and to pay the expenses of his apprenticeship for many years. The son is thus dependent on his father and his labor brings in no advantage for several years. The [working] life of man is estimated at only 10 or 12 years, and as several are lost in learning a trade, most of which in England require seven years of apprenticeship, a plowman would never be willing to have a trade taught to his son if the artisans did not earn more than the plowmen……. The professionals themselves do not make all their children learn their own trade: there would be too many of them for the needs of a city or a state and many would not find enough work. However, the work is naturally better paid than that of plowmen. (p.41-42).

While the dynamics are not identical to a student attending college in the 21st century, however, there are some striking parallels. Both practices are assumed to function as an investment in a young person’s human capital. A trade off forgoing income for the present, with the anticipation that this will yield higher potential wages in the future. However, based upon Cantillon’s depiction of 18th century of apprenticeships parents were more entuned to the practical results of their child’s job training. Due to the large costs of losing help on the farm parents were more  likely to consider their child’s aptitudes and the present concentration of skilled labors on the job market. The current “college for all” initiatives have left out an important piece of information out the factual argument for promotion greater college attendance, not all college degrees are equal. On average graduates holding a degree relating to the medical or STEM fields stand to make more money than those who majored in the humanities. This fact is frequently omitted in the onslaught of appeals encouraging young people to attend college. Creating the false impression that an engineering degree is on equal footing with a degree in sociology.

The pragmatic concern of  parents during the 18th century of an over saturated job market has disappeared. Witlessly parents are now pushing their kids to go college not for the sake of obtaining skills, but for acquiring credentials. Meaning that a college degree has turned into a signaling mechanism for employers. It’s an easy metric for qualifying potential candidates and effectively avoiding the  the legal complexities of  employment contingent intelligence testing (Griggs v. Duke Power Company). To a certain extent this signaling model for attaining college diplomas has backfired. As the number of people procuring 4-year degrees increases, invariably like another commodity its value depreciates on the market. Embodying the very essence of the most well know law in economics, the Law of supply and Demand. As the quantity of a good increase its market value  (quantified in money) decreases. The current glut of college educated participants in the workforce is exemplified by the statistics that 41 percent of all recent graduates are underemployed. Recent graduates that are underemployed are five times more likely to remain underemployed five years after graduation. The overall employment rate of college graduates has decreased from 1989 to 2019. Retention rates for 4-year institutions reached an all-time high of 81 percent in 2017. In 1900 only 27,410 students earned a bachelor’s degree. This number ballooned 4.2 million by  1940. That number has increased to 99.5 million. Demonstrating the vast proliferation of Americans with college degrees since the turn if the 20th century.  Considering nearly 40 percent of all Americans have a four-year degree does it still hold the same value on the job market? Clearly not. This is evident when observing the statistics relating to underemployment.

The decreasing value of a 4-year degree has distorted the signaling function of  a bachelor’s degree. This precipitous decline in value is the result of credential debasement. The depreciation of college degrees has resulted from a two-pronged debasement of these ubiquitous form of credentialing.  The first form of debasement that is afflicting college credentials is an increase in the quantity of degrees. Which is analogous to the introduction of more money into the economy through fiscal and semi-fiscal qualitative easing. Based upon the Law of Supply and Demand the greater the quantity of a commodity, the lesser the value. This debasement is exacerbated by federal subsidies for higher ed, government scholarships, and government loans. These policies eliminate the financial barriers for entering college, the result being more students obtaining degrees.  On the surface, this sounds like a good thing. However, with an increase in the number of Americans holding degrees the “purchasing power” of a bachelor’s degree is greatly diminished. Leaving many graduates with no choice but to take jobs that do not require a degree.  Even most positions in an office environment working in sales or customer service do not require any college (or shouldn’t). This phenomena is particular jarring when you consider that 29 % of flight attendants, 17 % of hotel clerks, and 23.5 % of amusement park attendants hold 4-year degrees.

While the first form of debasement is a quantitative debasement of college credentials, the second variety is a qualitative depreciation.  Paralleling the currency debasement practices in ancient Rome. Gradually the silver content in Roman coins was replaced by higher concentrations of copper significantly reducing the real value of the coins, while nominal value remained the same.  The qualitative debasement of academic standards is a metric that is difficult to empirical prove.  However, many experts who believe that higher ed has been “dumbed down” utilize a lot of correlative measures to defend this assertion. Some theorists have cited a decline in SAT reading scores have being indicative of falling standards for college admissions. This talking point is far from the most damning piece of evidence supporting the claim of a dip in academic rigor. Students on average spending 400-900 hours a year on course work. In contrast, a fulltime work devotes 1,8000-2,000 hours annual to their job.  Despite the paucity of time dedicate to their studies students are currently earning higher grades than their parents or grandparent ever did. Back in 1940 the average GPA of a college student was 2.5, now it hovers around 3.1. While it would be unwise to infer causation from correlation, it wouldn’t be foolish to at least notice pattern.

Beyond the hordes of misguided parents and High School guidance counselors  urging students to go to College there is another force pushing them in this direction, public policy.  In recent years, many politicians various forms of “free college” or “student loan forgiveness” as part of their policy platform. Even some Republicans have incorporated moderate compromises to the “free college” proposals. For example, Arizona governor Doug Ducey signed (AZ SB1453) a bill that allows community colleges to offer bachelor’s programs. This measure may seem minor, it helps further debase 4-year degrees. Allowing community colleges to provide bachelor’s degrees acts as a subsidy, by artificially lowering the cost of a 4-year degree. There is a substantial difference in the cost of tuition between junior and senior colleges. Such initiatives encourage more prospective students to attend college, pushing the 4-year degree closer to being the new defacto high school diploma.