Adopting a clean gold standard

Last month JP Koning wrote an article about banning gold mining. He received plenty of feedback from different parts of the internet. Some loved it, some didn't. [ GATA | Boing Boing | Hackernews ] In this follow-up post, he wants to outline a less draconian and more market-friendly alternative to banning gold mining.

Let me quickly reprise the original blog post. Unlike coal or oil or wheat, gold never gets consumed. We mostly "use" gold by holding it in vaults where it is kept safe from wear and tear. If people collectively want to hold more of the yellow metal, then a simple rise in price will suffice. After all, if the price of gold jumps to $4000/oz from $2000/oz then the world's gold hoards will have doubled. Voila, demand satisfied. With price doing all the work of responding to higher societal demand, no new metal from mines is required. That's a good thing. The problem with gold mining is that it causes all sorts of environmental damage. That's why El Salvador, for instance, chose to ban gold mining back in 2017. Extending this ban to the entire globe would reduce all of the damage caused by mining without hurting gold's main consumers: investors, speculators, and hoarders.   So that was the gist of last month's post. In today's post I want to outline an alternative way to move in the same direction as a mining ban. The idea would be for a standards board, perhaps the London Bullion Market Association or the International Standards Organization, to create a new industry standard for gold called "clean gold." Unlike "dirty gold," clean gold would not be implicated in the environmentally damaging effects of mining. Environmentally-conscious gold investors would be able to migrate from their dirty gold to clean gold, which would likely trade at a premium to the dirty stuff. Clean gold would be defined as all gold in existence before a fixed cutoff date, say December 31, 2023. Any gold produced after that would not be granted clean status. It would be dirty. By committing to only buy and hold clean gold (i.e. the legacy already-mined stuff) a woke gold investor is choosing to avoid contributing to any additional mining-linked environmental degradation. These investors' collective choice to only buy pre-2023 gold would be a substitute for a gold mining ban. Together, they would be acting as-if gold mining had been banned by governments.

As I mentioned earlier on, clean gold would trade at a premium to dirty gold. Likewise, a clean gold ETF would trade at a premium to a dirty gold ETF and clean gold bullion coins would trade at a premium to regular bullion coin. The reason for a premium is that the supply of clean gold would be fixed at the amount of gold in existence prior to December 31, 2023. But the amount of dirty gold is not fixed. Dirty gold includes not only all gold mined after 2023 but all pre-2023 gold. After all, an owner of a 1995 gold bar needn't seek clean status if they don't care for that designation. If dirty gold were to ever rise to a premium to clean gold, then arbitrageurs would convert clean gold into dirty until the premium disappeared. There are no rules prohibiting movement from the clean to dirty designation. But careful, once dirty always dirty! There is no way to do the opposite, to convert dirty gold into clean in order to reduce the clean premium. The clean gold rules and standards prevent dirty gold conversions. How large might the premium get? If the gold investment world were to completely migrate over to clean gold, quite high. Most existing gold is currently being held for hoarding purposes. By taking the totality of this demand and refocusing it on pre-2023 gold, the price of clean gold might trade at, say, $3,000 while the price of dirty gold trades at just $300. On the other hand, the premium would remain low if the clean gold standards are poorly managed and lack credibility.

Who would want to buy dirty gold? Investors who are less concerned about the environment might be content to keep holding dirty gold kilo bars and 400-ounce bars. People who buy gold jewellery might not mind holding dirty gold either, since dirty gold necklaces will be cheaper than certified clean necklaces. I suspect the main buyers of dirty gold would be manufacturers that use it for industrial purposes, like circuitry. Gold has excellent conductivity. It is also the most non-reactive of all metals, which means that unlike copper and silver it is resistant to corrosion & oxidization. Given these advantages, manufacturers would love to use more of the yellow metal in their products. However, gold's high price prevents broader industrial usage of gold. The dominant group of buyers—hoarders & investors—keep gold's price perpetually high, thus pushing manufacturers out of the market. And so copper has become the most important metal in electronics. By diverting a large chunk of hoarding demand to a certain type of gold, clean gold, chip makers could finally get access to low-priced gold. Gold would displace copper and the overall quality of electronics products would improve. Certain manufacturers that want to demonstrate a commitment to having sustainable supply chains (i.e. Apple?) would probably purchase clean gold, and so their products would be more expensive than those without clean gold.

What about coins? As I suggested earlier, mints such as the US Mint and Royal Canadian Mint would produce two streams of gold coins: clean coins and regular ones. They would buy clean gold feedstock from the LBMA's certified clean gold inventories. The mints would include branding on clean coins to certify their clean status. As for their regular coins, mints would continue to buy newly mined gold from miners.

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