My title is misleading. I don’t recommend that gentle reader buy ANYTHING at the moment, beyond necessary food and clothing. There are no “good deals” available in the marketplace. Those who think there are must be misinformed.
And I will blame everything on the “Dictatorship of Relativism,” as Pope Benedict so astutely called it. There is no “gold standard,” in our world at present, to put this in the most comic, literal way; except perhaps that which God buried in the earth, out of time and mind.
A friend in Texas has pointed me to an amusing website, which gives daily prices, not in the usual dollars, but in equivalent milligrams of gold.
From it, I learn that the Dow Jones has fallen 5.7 percent in the last week or so. That national currencies are approaching all-time lows. The U.S. dollar is doing worse than the Euro, but the choice is like that between two bombed buildings. (Which WAS higher?)
Commodities were mixed, however. There was a sharp rise in silver. But if massa was heavily invested in cotton, he has taken quite a beating.
Had the conservative investor bought and held a blue-chip portfolio, for his retirement, he might think it had increased in value by 50 percent over the last twenty years. Mistake. For the S&P index has actually declined by more than half, over this time, in milligrams of gold. Ditto for many other “safe” investment strategies.
To be clear, once again, I am not giving market tips. Readers should know I have no “skin” in this game. I used to follow stocks as a teenager, but that was half a century ago. Since, I’ve saved my eyes from the agate type in the newspaper tables.
Pope Benedict did not qualify “dictatorship of relativism” in any “scientific” way. He was of course not referring to commercial ups and downs. And today I am considering his point as he didn’t mean it. In taking it literally, I’m being purposely obtuse.
But bear with me.
Once upon a time, as I learned as a (young) coin collector, a dollar was worth twenty-four gold grains. This was a very long time ago, so perhaps I’m mixing up old Mexican dollars with thalers from the north of Europe.
But whatever the case, “grains” (a medieval measure, now in only ceremonial use), are very, very small. Whereas a milligram is much, much smaller.
If we wanted to base a currency on the milligram of gold, it would have to be paper or digital; or we would have to carry microscopes when shopping. More than 30,000 of them to one good, old-fashioned Troy ounce.
Still, it would be a gold standard. It would be beyond the reach of human intervention. Not politicians, nor central banks, could inflate or deflate it, for gold is gold is gold. Truly, we would be going back to the Middle Ages.
Even today, expressing prices in gold, we get some passing hints on what things are worth over time. A time-traveler from another century could make some sense of gold prices. He would find most goods in this 21st century were pretty cheap.
Upon returning to his own time, he might expand on this: “Cheap and nasty.” But this latter is more an absolute than a relative judgment. His ancient listeners might only understand that gold is gold.
This is because people used to be absolutist. Some “nominalist” intellectuals might already be playing with their heads in the later Middle Ages, but to a normal man, a thing was what it was.
His idea of “value” was exotically different. He might not understand “quantity” at all, though he could count to ten with the best of them.
There are, I’m told, various ways to quantify a “quality” in engineering. But when it comes to the good, the true, and the beautiful, we are on our own. This is because they are absolutes, not relatives.
Is an Apple, by the late Cézanne, more beautiful than an Apple by the late Steve Jobs? You tell me. I don’t even know if an apple is more beautiful than an orange.
But our modern idea is all numbers, all relatives. Even gold has a number, and it changes, day to day. To think differently is hardly even allowed.
Now, to be candid, some quantities are still important to me. How many miles to walk home, for instance. Will it seem more in kilometers? Or less if I am running? But will I die if I try to run that – thus taking me over another qualitative bridge?
I am, it must be said, a very backward person. While I haven’t devised a method to go backward in time, I’d rather do that than move immediately forward. Pray things will get better as the road vanishes, over the next hill. But maybe it will be a cliff.
Here I am hang-gliding into the unknown, and unknowable, to us humans. We live for the day, and only for tomorrow when it can be foreseen. That it usually isn’t, we should know by now, supposing we are adults.
The number of milligrams of gold we have placed in our retirement account doesn’t matter. By now, we know others who are dead. To save pleasures, or a joy, for tomorrow can seem, sometimes, a reckless thing to do.
To the modern man, Eternity is reckless. It is one of those intangible absolutes. The Christian teaching on “immortality,” which might at first seem simple, is in its very simplicity profoundly complex.
For immortality is not relative. We won’t “become immortal” at some point, as we pass over the threshold of death. We are immortal NOW.
“Get used to it,” as my (late) mama would add. Not all the gold in the world will buy a single minute, when your time is up. But as she mischievously added, it will buy some other things.
Only relative things, however.
*Image: Apples and Oranges by Paul Cézanne, c. 1899 [Musée d’Orsay, Paris]