Citigroup’s Willem Buiter Says He ‘Would Hold Gold’

Famous gold skeptic says gold wins against fiat currencies in negative rate environment
July 17, 2016 Updated: July 20, 2016

In the books of most gold lovers, Citigroup’s chief economist Willem Buiter is noted down as the man who thinks gold is a “6,000 year bubble.”

However, in a recent interview with Epoch Times [Skip to 38:00 in the video], he presented a much more nuanced position and said he would even own gold as part of a diversified portfolio of currencies. 

“It competes with other fiat currencies, the dollar, the yen, the euro. And if these currencies now yield negative interest rates or are at risk of negative yields in the U.K. and the United States, then the currency that at least has a zero interest rate, looks better.”

Gold, in times of uncertainty and especially in days of uncertainty laced with negative rates, looks pretty good.
— Willem Buiter, Citigroup

He still maintains that gold is a fiat commodity that has limited intrinsic value because it doesn’t have many industrial uses, and only has value because people say so. But he admits this is true of all paper currencies and bitcoin as well and gold may even have an advantage right now.

“I will never argue with a six thousand-year-old bubble. So gold, in times of uncertainty and especially in days of uncertainty laced with negative rates looks pretty good,” he said. 

 His definition of a bubble is also interesting and he again includes all fiat currencies in this category. 

Citigroup Chief Economist Willem Buiter at an interview with Epoch Times in New York on July 6, 2016. (Epoch Times)
Citigroup Chief Economist Willem Buiter at an interview with Epoch Times in New York on July 6, 2016. (Epoch Times)

“The fundamental value of an intrinsically valueless good is zero. For every fiat currency if it’s value is positive,  it’s a bubble. There are good bubbles when they are stable. There are bad bubbles when they are exploding upwards and downwards.”

And he says there is some positive value to having fiat money or gold for transactional purposes.

Bubbles are the essence of fiat money economies.
— Willem Buiter, Citigroup

“There is nothing wrong with a bubble. Fiat money as a positive value is a very beneficial bubble. It’s much more efficient of course to produce paper money without cost if it can be managed well, rather than the costly way to extract and store gold. But bubbles are the essence of fiat money economies.”

Maybe what Buiter means is exactly what Scottish economist John Law explained in his work “Money and Trade Considered” in 1705.

Instead of calling gold, paper money, or silver a “beneficial bubble” Law simply stated that precious metals (in this case silver) have value because they are the best at being money, not because they are used as a metal in industrial processes.  

“The additional use [as] money silver was apply’d [sic] to would add to its value, because as money it remedied the disadvantages and inconveniences of barter, and consequently the demand for Silver encreasing [sic], it received an additional value equal to the greater demand its use as money occasioned,” writes Law.

This is true of gold and paper money as well with the notable difference that paper money gains superior value as money by government decree (fiat) and because people are forced to use it.  Gold and silver have been in use as money because of their natural properties (scarcity, malleability, divisibility, and durability).

Out of the 118 elements in the periodic table, gold and silver win as monetary instruments according to University College London chemistry professor Andrea Sella. The have just the right degree of scarcity and a low enough melting point to make them into coins he told the BBC.

Another advantage: “Gold is unbelievably beautiful.”

Willem Buiter agrees: “You can’t increase [the supply], maybe an advantage for those who like it … It is costly to store and all that but yes, you can put it in your nose and that makes it good.”