It is a well documented phenomenon that a good many libertarians and a ton of conservatives have a thing for gold. Conservative radio and tv shows play ads telling us to invest in this metal, while numerous libertarian types lament the country ever left the gold standard. Maybe they are right in that investing in gold is the best way to protect oneself from the devaluation of the dollar or perhaps this is just a case of opportunists playing on paranoia. To be honest, I don’t know. But, I do know that there are a few things about the gold obsession with in libertarianism that I find troubling.
I recognize that the reasons why gold makes sense as a form of money: it is durable, our supply of it exist in relatively fixed/predictably expanding quantities, it can be easily divided and melted back together as needed, and it has a long tradition as a form of wealth. However, this last point, which seems to be the biggest factor in the obsession with gold, strikes me as a the most problematic one. Simply put, this long tradition of viewing gold as a money or store of wealth has been insanely violent and coercive, and nearly everything about it is in contradiction to the values I think lovers of freedom should hold. Countless people have been, murdered, enslaved, beaten and abused as a result of our tradition of valuing this metal. Countries have been taken over, colonized and subject to war, and huge amounts of land theft have occurred in the name acquiring gold. Gold very much has been the currency of big, powerful nation states, colonizers, warlords, monarchies, pirates and slave traders.
It is very much a relic of the type of old coercive economy that I would hope libertarians would want to move away from. The endorsement of gold often feels like an endorsement of the imperialism, that is so deeply wound up in the history of humanity and this metal. As noted earlier gold has no intrinsic properties that make it a suitable currency, that cannot be found in other metals, aside form it’s long bloody history of being seen as valuable. It seems to be the subject valuation of it is largely an unfortunate and irrational accident of history.
It has also come to my attention that gold mining and purifying is a highly environmentally destructive activity, that frequently damages the legitimate property of not only the mining interest but others living near by (which is hardly something consistent libertarians should support). Also it strikes me as a bit authoritarian and coercive to impose a gold standard on an economy… Shouldn’t the libertarian ideal really be a system of competing currencies, left to their own devices? I also seem to recall that there have been instances where discoveries of gold have imposed damaging inflation on economies.
Personally, I find the new enthusiasm for bit coin and other informal currencies a bit more forward looking, and compatible with the libertarian ideal as I understand it, but I of course I have no knowledge of what the future of any of these will be.