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The bullionaires
Edited version published: Men's Style #34 (Summer 2009-2010)

Used to be that you had to head for the hills to find gold; these days you need look no further than your friendly neighbourhood vending machine. If you live in Frankfurt, Germany that is, where the world’s first bullion vending machines were installed earlier this year.

First sausages, now gold. Investors can satisfy their fiscal cravings by purchasing gold in pre-packaged one, five or ten gram bars that come in a metal case labeled ‘My golden treasure’. The $5 Canadian Maple Leaf coin and $15 Australian Kangaroo coin are also on offer. Prices are updated every fifteen minutes, and fluctuate at around 20% more than market price. Ker-ching!

“It's better value than the bank," Romy Erhardt of TG-Gold-Super-Markt pointed out in an interview with The Times, "And it's very convenient. No waiting time; you just put in your cash and a minute later you’re an investor in gold."

We humans have been lusting after gold since we first put stylus to papyrus; the first known use of gold in transactions date back about 6000 years. When granted a wish, Midas shrewdly asked that everything he asked be turned to gold. One of the three wise men (clearly the most investment savvy) bore gold as a gift for the baby Jesus, and it floated Columbus’ boat as he explored the New World.

In modern times, gold investment has been a solid way to shore up wealth in times of economic crisis. The Great Depression, World Wars I and II, the oil crises of the seventies, and the   stock market crash of 1987 all saw those in the know going gaga for gold. And now.

Since April 2001, the price of gold has more than tripled in value against the US dollar, and in March 2008 it hit a new high of US$1023/oz. In real terms this is still well below the US$850/oz peak that heralded the start of the boom or bust eighties, which, when indexed for inflation, would equate to US$2000 plus per ounce. But relatively speaking gold is, well, going for gold.

I can’t tell you how relieved this makes me. I worry for the rich, I really do. For a minute there, I was beginning to think they’d lose everything because of their penchant for investing their wealth in arbitrary, culturally constructed notions of value and worth like shares, and printed, specially marked paper, and shiny metals dug out of the ground and fashioned into aesthetically pleasing shapes.

Granted, this is not the end of the world. But I’m all about the big picture. Civilisations come and go, and it seems likely that sometime in the next two thousand years or so, our number is going to be up. Any number of disasters – political, social, natural - could rocket us from our chaise lounges into an abyss of gloom and doom, one in which our incestuous global systems of communication, trade, finance, and technology are obsolete.

In times of drought and famine, war and pestilence, perhaps an ice age or two, tangible forms of wealth like banknotes and gold coins won’t get you very far. It might buy you what you need, for a time, but once the shit really hits the fan, it’ll be food and water you crave. Fancy sitting down to a nice hot cup of melted bullion for breakfast? Much as I like the idea of shitting gold bricks, it’s not going to happen. Me, I’m putting my money in baked beans.
 
If capitalism were a lover, she’d have a wandering eye. She’s beautiful, charming, entrancing. A total turn on. You can’t believe your luck. But just as you’re on the verge of popping the question, she gets bored and ditches you for a foreign toyboy. He’s new and attractive interesting; all her friends want one too, and before you know it you’re wallpapering your living room with her underwear.
 
I’m pretty sure there are some bowerbird genes in our DNA, because there’s nothing like a bit of 24 carat bling to pull you out of the doldrums. Mining geeks estimate that the total of all gold ever mined weighs in at 158,000 tons, equivalent to a cube with edges measuring around 20 metres.

As the most malleable and ductile of all metals, it’s pretty impressive stuff. We use it in everything from glassmaking, mechanics and medicine to embroidery and electronics. And right now, demand outstrips supply; gold is a good, solid investment in times of fiscal insecurity. Just don’t store it in your teeth.