Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Get Your Gold Right Here!

In Germany, the art of the vending machine is at the forefront of its game. See this one in Wolfsburg, where you can choose your Volkswagen:

[Thanks to for the photo.]

Elsewhere, a fellow named Thomas Geissler has started a company that is installing 500 vending machines in various spots, and what do you suppose he sells?


That's right, buyers have a choice among a 1 gram wafer for 30 euros, a 10 gram bar for 245 euros, or various gold coins.

There is a slight hitch: He has added a 30 percent mark-up to the cheapest products. Most dealers will ask only around 5 to 7 percent for bullion coins. And of course, prices are monitored and changed every few minutes.

See an article on this by Murray Wardrop at the UK Telegraph. And here's another at Reuters, and a third at Geissler's website.

Economist Edward C. Harwood introduced the notion of selling gold by the gram and potentially using it as an exchange medium back in the 1960s, and he even got his face on a one-ounce gold coin, in honor of his efforts. I don't know if he was the first; but his story is a fascinating one that I may be able to tell at some point relatively soon. I'm now working on his biography.

Meantime, I've often maintained that the gold standard can come back through various doors:

1. Official re-adoption by the politicians (but as my friend the former Columbia economics professor says, don't hold your breath);

2. Partial re-introduction, i.e. official acceptance of gold as legal tender so the public could use it as an alternative to the dollar in contracts and for repayment of debts public and private (I wouldn't hold my breath for this one either, because the politicians know how much this would limit the scope of their financial activities);

3. Demand by the public.

Now, this third avenue may just arrive in spite of a lot of skepticism. US gold coins are in short supply due to the huge demand in the US. Other countries are more aware even than we are of the importance of gold in the historical money markets. This experiment in Germany may tell us just how likely it is. If the public is willing to pay a 30 percent premium to own gold from a vending machine, then the urge to own something of value instead of fiat paper currency must be deeply ingrained indeed.

Mr. Geissler has surely thought this thing through, and has invested in some pretty heavy equipment (500 very solid machines, plus something to make the 1-ounce wafers) and security systems to see that his operation has a chance to succeed. I will be watching this one closely.

Remember my mantra:

You can take gold out of the standard, but you can't take the standard out of gold.

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