June 5, 2015

Due to the confiscation of gold by the Roosevelt Administration in 1933, there remains an undercurrent of concern among gold owners that the US government or another major government will confiscate gold in the future. However, the risk of this happening is presently so low as to not be worth taking into account. Of far greater risk are capital controls and the confiscation of cash.

Gold confiscation is not a realistic threat under the current monetary system, because under the current system gold isn’t money. To further explain, the reason that gold was confiscated in the US in 1933 was that gold, at that time and place, was money, with the dollar essentially being a receipt for gold. Consequently, the amount of gold in the banking system placed a limitation on the quantity of dollars. By making gold ownership illegal the US government not only prevented the public from removing gold from the banking system, thus eliminating one of the superficial deflationary forces, it also pushed additional gold into the banking system and paved the way for greater monetary inflation.

Today, gold imposes no limitations on the abilities of the government and its agents to spend, borrow and inflate, so there is no reason for the government to confiscate it or even to care about it.

As an aside, in the 1930s the US government confiscated silver shortly after it confiscated gold, even though silver wasn’t official money at the time. However, the primary reason for the silver confiscation was the same as the reason for the gold confiscation — to pave the way for greater monetary inflation. As part of an effort to increase the money supply, the confiscated silver was put directly into the monetary base by turning it into legal tender in the form of coins or silver certificates. The 1934 silver nationalisation order actually brought silver back into the monetary system, where it remained until the early-1960s.

What the government wants to control is the official money, which in 1933 was gold and today is the dollar or some other fiat currency. The government is therefore focused on monitoring/controlling the flow of today’s currency units, which means that you are at far greater risk of having your cash confiscated or restricted in some way than having your gold confiscated.

Moreover, capital controls aren’t just a potential future problem, they exist in almost every country today. In almost every country there are already restrictions on a) the transfer of money across national borders, b) the transfer of money between different account-holders, and c) the amount of deposit currency that can be converted to physical cash. If these aren’t capital controls by another name, what are they?

Capital controls are likely to become more draconian over time. People with significant financial assets should therefore already be managing the capital-controls risk by diversifying their assets internationally*. Also, everyone (especially US citizens), including those who don’t yet have significant financial assets to protect, should have a second passport as a guard against future restrictions on freedom.

*If you are concerned about gold confiscation then you could also manage this risk by distributing your gold across vaults in different countries. This is easy to do via Bullionvault.com or the new BitGold service.

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