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What to do with your tax refund check

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brian0918
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What the US government is calling "tax refunds" are coming and are claimed to be the cure for the sagging economy. Does anyone agree with this assessment?

If the government is running a huge debt, where is this money coming from? Aren't they just pulling money out of thin air? Aren't they basically saying, "we'll give you the appearance that the economy is getting better at the expense of it getting worse in the future"?

If that is the case, what is everyone planning to do with the "refund"? Should we just return to sender?

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What the US government is calling "tax refunds" are coming and are claimed to be the cure for the sagging economy. Does anyone agree with this assessment?

If the government is running a huge debt, where is this money coming from? Aren't they just pulling money out of thin air? Aren't they basically saying, "we'll give you the appearance that the economy is getting better at the expense of it getting worse in the future"?

If that is the case, what is everyone planning to do with the "refund"? Should we just return to sender?

I disagree with the assessment that these checks will cure anything. These checks are not a cure for the economy; that is, unless you subscribe to Keynesian economic theory, in which you would view that consumption is the engine of economic growth.

This money is going to be borrowed, which means it will ultimately be printed out of thin air as you said. Welcome to the 21st century, which is not much different from the 20th in that the immediate future is always saved at the expense of the long-term. It's been going on for nearly 100 years now under the money-as-debt system.

As for what to do with your refund, the answer is: whatever you please. Spend it at a strip club for all I care. One thing I would note which would be funny is if the refunds are spent in any sort of underground market they would not be counted toward GDP. Man would that really get under the skin of these politicians! This would be a pretty comical way of spending the refund, i.e. on drugs, prostitutes, bribery, illegal gambling, tax evasion.

But I wouldn't return it, simply for the fact that you do have taxes taken from you, so you can see this as a credit to your tax account with the government. (Yeah, I know, it isn't actually. But for the sake of simplicity.)

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I disagree with the assessment that these checks will cure anything. These checks are not a cure for the economy; that is, unless you subscribe to Keynesian economic theory, in which you would view that consumption is the engine of economic growth.

Doesn't it devalue the dollar to print money from thin air? Maybe it's better to convert all your money to gold before people get their refund checks; then, as the value of the dollar drops, you would effectively be getting interest relative to the US economy. Or am I talking out of my ass?

Edited by brian0918
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Doesn't it devalue the dollar to print money from thin air? Maybe it's better to convert all your money to gold before people get their refund checks; then, as the value of the dollar drops, you would effectively be getting interest relative to the US economy. Or am I talking out of my ass?

This is what I've been considering as well. You're right - it definitely devalues the dollar, and it's really scary to think that our money will eventually be worth NOTHING. I've actually talked with my boyfriend about investing in gold, but I'd be really careful to ensure that the gold I bought was real.

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Doesn't it devalue the dollar to print money from thin air? Maybe it's better to convert all your money to gold before people get their refund checks; then, as the value of the dollar drops, you would effectively be getting interest relative to the US economy. Or am I talking out of my ass?

Hmmm...there is some truth to what you are saying, but it is a bit of an oversimplification, because there are other factors that determine the price of gold. But yes, printing money will devalue the dollar over the long-term and typically gold will rise.

If you want to best profit from a fall in the value of the dollar, I would suggest selling dollars to buy another currency. You can do this through most broker-dealers.

If you want to profit from a fall in the dollar without betting on a rise in any one particular currency, I would suggest buying ticker symbol UDN through a brokerage account. This Exchange Traded Fund will rise in value when the dollar falls in value relative to a basket of currencies and fall when the dollar gains value relative to a basket of currencies (you are "short" dollars). For someone with a bullish stance on the dollar, I would recommend buying ticker symbol UUP, which gives returns opposite to UDN (you are "long" dollars).

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Hmmm...there is some truth to what you are saying, but it is a bit of an oversimplification, because there are other factors that determine the price of gold. But yes, printing money will devalue the dollar over the long-term and typically gold will rise.

If you want to best profit from a fall in the value of the dollar, I would suggest selling dollars to buy another currency. You can do this through most broker-dealers.

If you want to profit from a fall in the dollar without betting on a rise in any one particular currency, I would suggest buying ticker symbol UDN through a brokerage account. This Exchange Traded Fund will rise in value when the dollar falls in value relative to a basket of currencies and fall when the dollar gains value relative to a basket of currencies (you are "short" dollars). For someone with a bullish stance on the dollar, I would recommend buying ticker symbol UUP, which gives returns opposite to UDN (you are "long" dollars).

That's interesting. Check out how the dollar fared after the rebate checks from late 2001:

g1.jpg

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This is what I've been considering as well. You're right - it definitely devalues the dollar, and it's really scary to think that our money will eventually be worth NOTHING. I've actually talked with my boyfriend about investing in gold, but I'd be really careful to ensure that the gold I bought was real.

You have to be careful with all investments, including gold. Gold or other commodities have a place in most people's portfolios, just don't go crazy and invest more than a reasonable portion of your assets into gold. Of course gold is risky, like many other investments. It is also currently quite expensive.

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Government debt, or more precisely, anticipated government debt, is the source of inflation. Under the gold standard, debt causes a run on gold, which is why the government had to forbid the private ownership of gold. In the 60's, people started to understand that the growing federal debt was causing the dollar to devalue, but because they couldn't buy gold, we saw gold hold steady and the value of the dollar dropped as people realized we couldn't maintain the gold standard for long. By 1970, the situation became untenable and we were forced to depeg ourselves from gold. At that point inflation skyrocketed. Gold rose to a level that reflected the anticipated future price of gold if inflation continued in double digits, then spiraled higher as people rushed into a gold bubble. Gold eventually hit $850/oz in 1980. When inflation settled down in the early 80's, the price of gold plummeted to a more reasonable level, reflecting a level in line with price indices.

If you want to calculate the effect of government debt on inflation, do this: Calculate the amount of GDP lost each year due to inflation (it's apx. GDP*(CPI(+1)/CPI(0))^(1/2)), then every year, index the prior years' GDP loss by the CPI change (CPI(+1)/CPI(0)) and add to the GDP loss from that year. Then graph the yearly result with the level of federal debt. Prior to 1970, you'll see the cumulative GDP loss is less than federal debt, reflecting the artificially low inflation imposed by the restrictive gold standard. (Restrictive in that the gov't wouldn't actually sell gold for dollars)

At around 1970, the cumulative GDP loss crosses above federal debt as inflation began to runaway, making up for the unaccounted federal debt, then rose far above federal debt, as increased deficit spending soared and anticipated federal debt shot up. In the 80's, as deficit spending began to stabilize, the cumulative inflationary GDP loss settled down and started tracking very closely to federal debt.

The bottom line of this exercise is that inflation is the government's way of "borrowing" money from your future productivity. This is exactly what Greenspan meant when he wrote:

The law of supply and demand is not to be conned. As the supply of money (of claims) increases relative to the supply of tangible assets in the economy, prices must eventually rise. Thus the earnings saved by the productive members of the society lose value in terms of goods. When the economy's books are finally balanced, one finds that this loss in value represents the goods purchased by the government for welfare or other purposes with the money proceeds of the government bonds financed by bank credit expansion.

-Alan Greenspan, "Gold and Economic Freedom,"

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 101.

(on edit:)

With Federal debt at 65% of GDP and rising, an impending recession, and a likely victory by one of two socialist candidates, it is almost certain that federal debt will rise quickly over the next few years. If you calculate the value of gold, in dollars, by comparing the current federal debt to the debt in 1932 (when we repegged from $20 to $35/oz), assuming we have the same amount of gold in reserve, you get somewhere between $800 and $1200/oz. With a potential large rise in debt and a larger rise in debt/GDP, coupled with a potential dollar collapse as the credit mess expands, it is possible we will see gold continue to rise. I will hold and continue to buy gold until I see some evidence that the credit problems are easing, and/or recession likelihood decreases, and/or favorable business policies are on the way, and/or government spending will ease and/or inflation will be held in check and/or the dollar is stabilizing, and/or gold has entered a panic bubble. Right now, all of those factors are heading in the wrong direction.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm buying gold with my rebate, either bullion or shares of GLD.

Edited by agrippa1
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With Federal debt at 65% of GDP and rising, an impending recession, and a likely victory by one of two socialist candidates, it is almost certain that federal debt will rise quickly over the next few years. If you calculate the value of gold, in dollars, by comparing the current federal debt to the debt in 1932 (when we repegged from $20 to $35/oz), assuming we have the same amount of gold in reserve, you get somewhere between $800 and $1200/oz. With a potential large rise in debt and a larger rise in debt/GDP, coupled with a potential dollar collapse as the credit mess expands, it is possible we will see gold continue to rise. I will hold and continue to buy gold until I see some evidence that the credit problems are easing, and/or recession likelihood decreases, and/or favorable business policies are on the way, and/or government spending will ease and/or inflation will be held in check and/or the dollar is stabilizing, and/or gold has entered a panic bubble. Right now, all of those factors are heading in the wrong direction.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm buying gold with my rebate, either bullion or shares of GLD.

Excellent post! What's a good reliable company for individuals to buy bullion from?

Random hypothetical question: what if everybody in the US used their rebate checks to buy into UDN?

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As Gags cautioned above, be careful when you make any investment, and definitely do not do it based on an emotion, fuelled by a cursory grasp of economics. Making any investment, based on a post in some forum is a bad idea in principle. I'm not saying adrock is wrong, mind you. However, it is one thing for someone who has studied the subject to make a decision to put his money on Gold, and different for someone who has not done the leg-work.

Consider the following about any investment, whether in Gold, real-estate or anything else: if you can see the value in the particular strategy you choose, why don't all the professionals see it too? To take this specific case, gold has had quite a run-up in the last year or two. For whatever reason, the many people buying and selling already "decided" that it is worth more in US$ terms than it was trading, and they have consequently bid it up to its current price. The current price is therefore like an "average viewpoint" of all the players around the world, who are buying and selling gold. Many of these people do this for a living. Still, some of them might be wrong and the price might still be too low, or it might be too high. It is perfectly legitimate to bet your views against theirs, but if you do so, do it knowing that this is what you are doing.

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Random hypothetical question: what if everybody in the US used their rebate checks to buy into UDN?

I'm not sure exactly what UDN and UUP actually are.

From Nov 1 through Feb 5, the Euro has gained 1.4% against the dollar. The broad weighted exchange shows the dollar losing 0.4% over the same period. (Source Fred Euro and trade weighted broad rates)

But UUP is up 0.5% and UDN is up 1.0%! (Source Yahoo: UDN and UUP)

Are these indices backed by any currency or are they speculative, Vegas-style shares? Either way, I'm not sure why both would rise, unless it reflects more demand, which would mean there's no inherent value to the shares.

But, if UDN was backed by foreign currency, then buying UDN would in effect wash Forex with dollars and we'd see a large drop in $ value. BTW, news reports this morning have businesses in New York starting to accept Euros. (a little misleading, since these businesses are probably giving a poor exchange rate to customers and exchanging for dollars themselves.)

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Reply to agrippa1:

But, if UDN was backed by foreign currency, then buying UDN would in effect wash Forex with dollars and we'd see a large drop in $ value. BTW, news reports this morning have businesses in New York starting to accept Euros. (a little misleading, since these businesses are probably giving a poor exchange rate to customers and exchanging for dollars themselves.)

Reuters says:

The Fund seeks to track changes in the level of the Deutsche Bank US Dollar Index. The Fund seeks to track the Short Index by establishing short positions in DX Contracts. The Short Index is calculated to reflect the changes in market value over time of short positions in DX Contracts.

I don't know if that means it's actually tied to currency. Are there any indices that are actually backed by foreign currency?

Reply to softwareNerd:

Consider the following about any investment, whether in Gold, real-estate or anything else: if you can see the value in the particular strategy you choose, why don't all the professionals see it too? To take this specific case, gold has had quite a run-up in the last year or two. For whatever reason, the many people buying and selling already "decided" that it is worth more in US$ terms than it was trading, and they have consequently bid it up to its current price. The current price is therefore like an "average viewpoint" of all the players around the world, who are buying and selling gold. Many of these people do this for a living. Still, some of them might be wrong and the price might still be too low, or it might be too high. It is perfectly legitimate to bet your views against theirs, but if you do so, do it knowing that this is what you are doing.

If I were to invest in something that would see an increase relative to the decreasing value of the dollar, it would be based on the knowledge/assumption that the value of the dollar is going to drop after everyone gets their rebate checks and starts spending their fake money. Is there any scenario where something like this (deficit spending?) would not reduce the value of the dollar (for at least the short term)?

Edited by brian0918
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As Gags cautioned above, be careful when you make any investment, and definitely do not do it based on an emotion, fuelled by a cursory grasp of economics. Making any investment, based on a post in some forum is a bad idea in principle. I'm not saying adrock is wrong, mind you. However, it is one thing for someone who has studied the subject to make a decision to put his money on Gold, and different for someone who has not done the leg-work.

Consider the following about any investment, whether in Gold, real-estate or anything else: if you can see the value in the particular strategy you choose, why don't all the professionals see it too? To take this specific case, gold has had quite a run-up in the last year or two. For whatever reason, the many people buying and selling already "decided" that it is worth more in US$ terms than it was trading, and they have consequently bid it up to its current price. The current price is therefore like an "average viewpoint" of all the players around the world, who are buying and selling gold. Many of these people do this for a living. Still, some of them might be wrong and the price might still be too low, or it might be too high. It is perfectly legitimate to bet your views against theirs, but if you do so, do it knowing that this is what you are doing.

That's good advice SN. There is a considerable amount of risk inherent in any commodity investment. Don't let claims about the safety of gold fool you. There is still risk connected with gold. As far as currency trading is concerned, all I will say is that you better know what you're doing.

If I were to invest in something that would see an increase relative to the decreasing value of the dollar, it would be based on the knowledge/assumption that the value of the dollar is going to drop after everyone gets their rebate checks and starts spending their fake money. Is there any scenario where something like this (deficit spending?) would not reduce the value of the dollar (for at least the short term)?

There are plenty of possible scenarios where these rebate checks might not further reduce the value of the dollar. The currency markets are very efficient, so this kind of consideration (deficit spending) is already priced into the value of the US dollar going forward.

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Is there any scenario where something like this (deficit spending?) would not reduce the value of the dollar (for at least the short term)?
Only if we assume that this factor is not already adequately been factored into the price.

Consider this hypothetical example:

1. Look at the US$ only vis-a-vis gold. Let us say that gold is selling at $850/troy oz. Now, let us assume that -- given this starting point, the U.S. government announces a stimulus package. Let's assume that this will dilute the value of the dollar, causing the price of gold (in US$ terms) to rise.

2. It's important to understand that a particular amount of "stimulus"/monetary-expansion/deficit-financing, etc., will lead to a particular increase in the value of gold. In other words, even if we do not know the exact relationship, nor all the variables, we know that this package alone is not going to take gold's price to $100,000 per ounce. So, the question is not whether gold is going up, but "how far?"

3. Different people will make different guess about how far Gold will go up, from the starting point of $850/oz. Perhaps some people think that it will be at $1000 a year from now, perhaps others think it will be at $900, and perhaps some even think it will be at $800.

4. Take a hypothetical where a near majority of traders think that it will almost certainly rise to $925/oz. What would they do? They would buy more. What would happen to the price? It would rise from $850, closer to $925. At some point (let's say $900) there may be enough people who are not quite certain, and the $900-to-$925 difference is not tempting enough. So, from the original level ($850 in our hypothetical), traders looked at the the new information, adjusted their expectations, and bid the price up (or down, in some other scenario).

5. The point is that, at any point in time, when you look at the price of gold (or other such investments), you are looking at a price that reflects the purchases or sales that other people have made, after analysing the information that you have. So, when you look at the price of gold today ($900) and say it will rise further, you are not simply applying the economic theory that relates the stimulus package to the price of gold. In addition, you are betting that other traders have not already adjusted for this adequately. Doing so is fine, as long as you understand that this is what you are doing.

Now, let's take the current price of gold (around $900/oz). Let us assume that you think the price will be about $920 in a year. Well, if you look at the prices of futures, you will see that other people think so too. You'll see that the market is already betting that the 2011 price will be a little over $1000/oz. So, if you too think that the price will rise to about $1000 by 2011, you probably will simply break even. [i.e. you will end up earning 13% over 3 years, which is a little over 4% per year, which you can get by putting money in a CD.]

In other words, if you buy gold to hold it for the next three years, do not do it simply if you think it will go up. Do it if you think it will go up significantly over the $1020 assumption being made for the year 2011 by the professional traders. To make it worth your while, whatever additional price rise you assume needs to be enough to counter any downside risk that you might be wrong.

To summarize: with investment assets, typical future expectations about price rises and falls are substantially accounted for in the current market price. To make money on such investments, your expectations have to be more correct than those of the typical trader of that asset.

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I would not make any bets on gold or currency based solely on the rebate checks. Like the others said, you must have a broad knowledge of macroeconomics and why prices are where they are for each asset. Establishing a position just because a few rebate checks are getting sent out is NOT a good reason.

As for UDN and UUP, the funds track DX futures contracts, which I think trade on the New York Board of Trade. The assets that the fund is investing in is futures contracts, which trade based on the future expected value of the currency, not on the spot price at the immediate moment on the foreign exchange market. Here is some more info:

DX Contracts are linked to the six underlying currencies of the USDX® , or the Index Currencies. The Index Currencies are Euro, Japanese Yen, British Pound, Canadian Dollar, Swedish Krona and Swiss Franc.

The Shares of each of the Long Fund and the Short Fund are intended to provide investment results that generally correspond to the performance of either the Long Index or the Short Index, respectively.

The value of the Shares of each Fund is expected to fluctuate in relation to changes in the value of its corresponding Master Fund's portfolio. The market price of the Shares of a Fund may not be identical to the net asset value per

Share, but these two valuations are expected to be very close.

Each Master Fund will invest in DX Contracts, which are futures contracts on the Index, traded exclusively through the FINEX®currency markets of the NYBOT. Each Master Fund will also hold cash and United States Treasury securities for

deposit with the Master Fund's Commodity Broker as margin and other high credit quality short-term fixed income securities. Each Master Fund's portfolio is traded with a view to reflecting the performance of the Long Index or the Short

Index, as appropriate, over time, whether the Index is rising, falling or flat over any particular period. The Long Master Fund will invest long in DX Contracts and the Short Master Fund will invest short in such DX Contracts. Neither Master Fund is "managed" by traditional methods, which typically involve effecting changes in the composition of the Master Fund's portfolio on the basis of judgments relating to economic, financial and market considerations with a view to obtaining positive results under all market conditions.

Edited by adrock3215
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I would not make any bets on gold or currency based solely on the rebate checks. Like the others said, you must have a broad knowledge of macroeconomics and why prices are where they are for each asset. Establishing a position just because a few rebate checks are getting sent out is NOT a good reason.

I agree with that. If you don't have special insight, almost any investment you can make is crap shoot. Read: A Random Walk Down Wall Street.

However, if you're an Objectivist and you understand the principles of inflation, deficits and debts, and the tendency of governments to "fix" problems that they don't realize they caused in the first place, you can begin with a big advantage over most "small picture" investors. If Objectivism is correct, (and this is just my opinion) the government will continue to "stimulate" the economy through direct deficit spending and credit infusion, both of which have short term effects, but tend to have an impeding effect on actual recovery as well as a long term inflationary effect. From what I've learned over the past year, governments faced with economic challenges tend to do exactly the wrong things, and recovery is in spite of their efforts. Betting on gold is a hedge against an economic collapse, which seems more and more prudent as the situation worsens. A hedge against bad times, but certainly not a guaranteed win.

As for UDN and UUP, the funds track DX futures contracts, which I think trade on the New York Board of Trade. The assets that the fund is investing in is futures contracts, which trade based on the future expected value of the currency, not on the spot price at the immediate moment on the foreign exchange market. Here is some more info:

Thanks. That explains why both indices rose slightly over the past three months.

Edited by agrippa1
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To summarize: with investment assets, typical future expectations about price rises and falls are substantially accounted for in the current market price. To make money on such investments, your expectations have to be more correct than those of the typical trader of that asset.

Great post! I guess one of the things I'm not getting is how "other traders adjust for this adequately". The purchasing power of the dollar has always dropped in the long term, so I don't see why it would suddenly start returning to the value it held 20-50 years ago - but I wouldn't be surprised if my "gut analysis" is inadequate. ;)

Assuming that the sub-prime crisis and the use of federal reserve interest rate cuts and deficit spending continues, I wonder what would be the best investment for profiting from these errors in judgment (both from the lenders giving people loans they can't pay back, and from the politicians trying to fix the short-term at the expense of the long-term). Any thoughts?

Edited by brian0918
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What the US government is calling "tax refunds" are coming and are claimed to be the cure for the sagging economy. Does anyone agree with this assessment?

No. The "stimulus package" is going to make things worse, not better.

If the government is running a huge debt, where is this money coming from? Aren't they just pulling money out of thin air?

They are borrowing most of it from foreign investors. Only about 7% of the national debt is owned by the Fed.

Aren't they basically saying, "we'll give you the appearance that the economy is getting better at the expense of it getting worse in the future"?

Yes. This is political pandering, pure and simple.

If that is the case, what is everyone planning to do with the "refund"? Should we just return to sender?

Invest it just like you would any other money you have. If you want to help the economy, then invest in productive assets. Since the government is destroying the value of the dollar, buying gold is a reasonable option to preserve purchasing power (it isn't really an investment).

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You have to be careful with all investments, including gold. Gold or other commodities have a place in most people's portfolios, just don't go crazy and invest more than a reasonable portion of your assets into gold. Of course gold is risky, like many other investments. It is also currently quite expensive.

Although I agree that investing requires caution, I disagree that gold is like any other investment. In fact, gold isn't really an investment at all; its money.

Money serves two functions: as a medium of exchange and a store of value. Although its illegal to use gold as a medium of exchange, compared to the US Dollar (FRN) its a superior store of value...perfect for savings.

If you invest, you should divide your portfolio between productive enterprises (stocks, businesses, etc.), loans to productive enterprises (bonds, notes, etc.), and savings (precious metals). Holding large portions of fiat currency is riskier than holding either stocks or bonds...and certainly riskier than holding gold. Keep only enough FRN's to pay your bills.

Do what you want with the rebate, but if you're thinking about saving it do not put it into a US Dollar denominated savings account...buy gold. It will retain its value in real terms until you’re ready to use it.

Merc

PS: the average life span of a fiat currency is one generation (25-30 years). The Federal Reserve Note (US Dollar) has technically been fiat since 1933, but certain events (WW2, Bretton-Woods) supported it as such until Nixon suspended convertibility in 1971. Its purchasing power (what it can buy in terms of goods and services) is now about 2% of its original value. One Troy ounce of gold will buy you - in real terms - the same as it did 100 years ago.

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PS: the average life span of a fiat currency is one generation (25-30 years). The Federal Reserve Note (US Dollar) has technically been fiat since 1933, but certain events (WW2, Bretton-Woods) supported it as such until Nixon suspended convertibility in 1971. Its purchasing power (what it can buy in terms of goods and services) is now about 2% of its original value. One Troy ounce of gold will buy you - in real terms - the same as it did 100 years ago.

So it would seem like if one wanted to save up for retirement, instead of putting it in social security, they should simply buy gold. By the time they're 80, they could be millionaires, no?

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Although I agree that investing requires caution, I disagree that gold is like any other investment. In fact, gold isn't really an investment at all; its money.

Money serves two functions: as a medium of exchange and a store of value. Although its illegal to use gold as a medium of exchange, compared to the US Dollar (FRN) its a superior store of value...perfect for savings.

I think you're minimizing the risk associated with an investment in gold, particularly a short term investment. If you had bought gold in 1980, it would have taken you many years to recover your initial investment. You can lose money with any investment, including gold.

http://www.nma.org/enumerate/gold/gold.htm

So it would seem like if one wanted to save up for retirement, instead of putting it in social security, they should simply buy gold. By the time they're 80, they could be millionaires, no?

Not necessarily. In my opinion, if you have a long time until retirement you're better off with a diversified portfolio of stocks that includes both domestic and international companies. But hey, it's your money.

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The money is coming from within the system, so it can't possibly improve the economy. It's like getting a blood transfusion in your left arm...from your right arm. As to what you should do with it? Whatever you want. It was yours to start with. Think of the rebate a small restitution paid to you from the thief who has taken so much more.

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