Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gold mania

Via the Freakonomics blog I just learned that there's a racket going on in Germany where they have vending machines that sell gold coins and bars at 30% above the current market rate. Brilliant!

When economic times get tough, the tough think of creative new ways to steal from the fearful. I've been noticing with much bemusement how full show-length advertisements on Christian radio loudly exhort their listeners to buy gold, and before that I've been fascinated by a precious metal pyramid scheme known as "Liberty Dollars."

Now this one... you really have to stand and goggle in awe at the sheer unmitigated chutzpah of a company whose business model provides a service that is so utterly worthless, and which displays so much naked greed.

Let me explain this again. Gold is an investment. Maybe it's a good investment right now, and maybe it's a bad one, but that's not the point. The point is that [edit: for most people] gold has no other value than as decoration or investment, and it's a really freaking bad investment if you have to pay 30% overhead up front.

Vending machines are for impulse buys. If you are walking past a vending machine in an airport and you see a candy bar for $1.50, and you say "Hmmm, a candy bar sounds mighty tasty right now" then to you at that moment, the candy bar is worth $1.50. Never mind that the same candy bar would cost you half as much or less if you bought it from a store. It has utility value to you.

Gold doesn't have has very limited utility value, and if you buy an investment with impulse dollars at a 30% markup, you are beyond stupid. Go home, do some freaking research, and buy it from a reputable vendor who will charge you 1-3% up front. You don't have to own the gold RIGHT NOW THIS INSTANT. I mean, if you're in an airport at the exact moment when The End Of The World As We Know It hits, maybe you could make a case for raiding the gold vending machine. But if that's the case, I think you might want to focus a little more on fleeing for your life at that point.