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《财富》经典回顾:黄金大辩论 (《财富》杂志,1931年)

《财富》 2011年08月22日

编者按:每周,《财富》网站(Fortune.com)将从往期《财富》杂志文章中精选出一篇最受读者欢迎的文章。本文摘自1931年2月刊,文章讨论了今天依然存在激烈争论的话题——黄金的真正价值何在?当时,美国正在经济大萧条中苦苦挣扎,黄金是当时的货币本位,交易价格仅为每盎司20美元。

黄金本身

    在各国的国库中,大约储备了525,000,000盎司货币性黄金。换算成美元,其价值大约为11,000,000,000美元。而其中,有相当于4,000,000,000多美元的黄金被存放在美国财政部(U. S. Treasury)和联邦储备银行(Federal Reserve Banks)的金库中,相当于2,000,000,000美元的黄金由法兰西银行(Bank of France)持有,相当于700,000,000美元的黄金则在英格兰银行手中,其余部分则散布在世界各国的银行金库里。

    每年,随着黄金开采量的增加,货币性黄金的供应量也在增加。虽然每年黄金开采量的增加幅度不同,但在过去五年,世界各地金矿每年产出价值约400,000,000美元的黄金。其中,88,000,000美元的黄金进了印度人的私人金库。73,000,000美元的黄金被用于艺术创作(包括牙科),剩下的不到240,000,000美元的黄金被各国用于充实国库。

    在全部400,000,000美元黄金产量中,南非兰特(Rand)金矿贡献的比例在一半以上。美国和加拿大紧随其后,两国产量分别在40,000,000美元左右。之后是俄罗斯(约20,000,000美元)、墨西哥、澳大利亚,以及南罗德西亚(今津巴布韦——译注)(各地区产量均在千万美元左右)。全球分配较为均衡。汇总数据显示,全球每年增加的产量中,超过80%是在英语国家。

    而不确定因素包括:目前正在开采的这些金矿的未来会怎样,在有关黄金短缺的争论中,这一因素显得尤为重要。兰特金矿是世界上最大的金矿,因此具有举足轻重的地位,而专家对它未来的产量却并不乐观。金矿本身不会出产黄金。黄金开采只不过是从地下开采原本便已经存在的矿物而已。因此,它的供应量是有限的。而这种限制完全取决于地质因素。一个人不可能对离地面6,000英尺(1,829米)深的矿床进行实地检查。他可以在上面钻孔,研究岩石结构,提取样本,用尽一切手段,但当他开始介绍各种数据时,充其量也只是在猜测而已。目前,据大部分地质学家预测,在未来十年内,兰特金矿的产量将减少一半。而在“许多年内”,美洲大陆的黄金产量可以一直保持当前的水平。即使他们猜对了,也依然无法提供未来黄金生产的完整答案。从金矿的开采、破碎到提炼,这是个技术过程,而与其他技术过程一样,它也将会不断改进。当一种名为氯化工艺的方法问世之后,人们通过购买一堆没有任何商业价值的矿石,然后利用这种新方法进行提炼,同样可以赚得盆满钵盈。

    此外,还有另外一个不确定因素。金矿开采也是一项商业活动,只不过它与其他商业活动存在区别,即其产品实行法律强制规定的固定价格。而且,矿主也不会面临销路问题。他的利润只会受到生产成本的影响。在经济繁荣时期,劳动力和材料成本不断上升,金矿的利润缩水,直至无利可图,此时,矿主会放弃开采。而当压缩空气所需成本,以及钢铁、炸药,和人力成本变得低廉时,矿主又会重新开放金矿。随着黄金短缺情况的出现,以及按这些商品衡量的黄金价值出现上升时,越来越多的金矿会开始盈利,进而推动产量的提升。在不景气的年份,预言家们也承认这一点,但他们认为已知金矿中受到影响的数量有限,不足以抵消黄金储备的缩水。

    最后一点:上述争论都是建立在当前已知金矿的基础上。人们已经确定了每一码富含金矿的矿石,并把它们的位置标在了地图上,这种假设根本不符合逻辑。美国加利福尼亚州或者南非,或者育空地区金矿的出现都毫无征兆。人们只是碰巧找到了它们而已。没人知道,人类什么时候能再次撞上另外一块富矿地带?不过,到目前为止,上帝确实给过我们这样的恩赐。上帝同时还规定,黄金对人类的吸引力越大,就会有越多的人四处寻找。

    如果想在全球黄金供应的争论中坚持己见,就要牢记这些数字和要点。如果当前的大萧条持续发展,势必会出现越来越多类似的争论。因为在困难时期,黄金储备总是能引发巨大的争论。此种争论的进程如下。

    由于人类采用黄金来衡量自己的劳动成果,因此有人认为,如果可用黄金的数量增加,产品的价值也会相应上涨。其他因素也会提高产品的价值,我们也会论及;撇开其他方面不谈,由于世界的价值以黄金为衡量标准,因此,如果黄金数量增加,世界的价值也会上涨,这一点毫无疑问。所以,每次发现新的金矿,随之而来的总是经济的繁荣。欧洲人发现新大陆后,用西班牙大帆船运回黄金,1849年美国加州淘金热,以及南非和美国阿拉斯加州金矿的开放,这些都带来了世界经济的繁荣。当然,这种影响比较短暂,因为,当世界习惯了新财富之后,一切又重回原样——人们的工资可能翻了一倍,但生活成本也在按同样的比例上涨。新的财富并没有被平均分配,而且通过计算可以看出,生活成本也并未因此有所增加,与所发现的黄金价值也不成正比。不过,虽然平衡未被打破,但新产生的百万富翁们会开始挥霍他们的财富,因此经济依然能保持增长势头。这些暴发户们雇佣了更多的人来服侍他们,支付的工资也有所提高。

    当世界上商品数量的增加速度高于黄金供应的速度时,这个过程将出现逆转。相对而言,黄金变得更加稀有,人们愿意用更多的商品换取一定数量的黄金——换句话说,商品价格开始下跌,通货紧缩开始出现。

    目前, 关于黄金短缺的大部分争论都从一个假设开始——牢记上述要点——即每年,世界商品数量以3%的比例增加,所以,为了保持稳定的价格水平,黄金储备数量也必须按同等比例增加。目前这一点并未实现。过去十年,黄金储备的增长率始终略低于商品数量的增加。而如前所述,未来的情况也并不乐观。因此,某学派认为,必须采取必要的措施,其中一条便是增加黄金的产量。

    但是,对于新的黄金供应必然出现下降的论点,我们并不确定;同样对于所计算出的3%的增加比例,也存在诸多不确定性。确实如此:假如明天各国国库中突然增加了大量的黄金,“经济的春天”立马就会到来,直到这些黄金被完全消化。

    

    Gold Itself

    There are some 525,000,000 ounces of monetary gold in the treasuries of the world. In terms of dollars, this is worth almost $11,000,000,000. Of this supply, over $4,000,000,000 is in the U.S. in the vaults of the U. S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve Banks, $2,000,000,000 is in the vaults of the Bank of France, some $700,000,000 in the Bank of England, and the rest in bank vaults scattered over the earth.

    This supply is increased, each year, by a percentage of the new gold mined. The amount varies, but for the last five years the mines have supplied about $400,000,000 worth of gold a year. Of this, some $88,000,000 has gone to India to be hoarded by individuals. Some $73,000,000 has been used in the arts (including dentistry), leaving less than $240,000,000 to enrich the treasuries of the world.

    Of the whole $400,000,000, the South African Rand mines have furnished over half. The U. S. and Canada come next, with around $40,000,000 apiece, then Russia (about $20,000,000), and Mexico, Australia, and Southern Rhodesia (each with a dozen-odd million). The balance is distributed about the globe. A summary shows that English-speaking countries produce over 80 per cent of the yearly increment.

    This much is uncertain: the future of the mines which supply this gold, an even more important factor in gold shortage arguments. The Rand mines, being the largest, dominate this situation, and experts are pessimistic about their future production. A mine, however, does not produce. It merely takes out of the ground what is there. Hence its supply is limited. But the nature of such limits are matters of geologic opinion. A man can't walk around a body of ore 6,000 feet beneath the surface. He can drill holes in it, study the structure of the rock, take samples, and use all the tricks he knows, but, at best, the minute he begins to quote figures to you he is guessing. At present, the majority of the geologists guess that within ten years the production of the Rand mines will be cut in half. They guess again that the American continental output will remain constant for "many years." Nor, even if they guess right, have they given you the whole answer to the future of gold production. For the process of taking gold out of the earth and crushing and refining it is a technical process, subject, like all technical processes, to improvement. When a method called the cyanide process was invented, men made fortunes buying dumps of rock abandoned as commercially worthless and putting them through the new method.

    There is still another factor. Mining-gold is a business, like any other, but differing from most in that the price of its product is fixed by law, inexorably. Nor has the miner any sales problem. The profits he makes are influenced solely by his cost of production. The mounting labor and material costs of good times cut down his margin until it disappears and he abandons his mine. When compressed air and steel and dynamite and men are cheap, he may reopen it. Hence, as a gold shortage approaches and the metal's value measured in these commodities rises, more and more mines may be operated profitably, and production rises. Prophets of lean years admit this, but reply that the number of known mines affected is not large enough to offset the indicated shrinkage in reserves.

    One last consideration: such arguments as have been suggested above are based on gold deposits known to exist. It is not logical to suppose that man has located and marked on a map every yard of gold-laden rock. The gold in California or South Africa or the Yukon gave no warning. Man stumbled on it. Just when he may stumble on another bonanza none knows but, to date, the Lord has provided. He further provides that as gold grows more desirable to man, more of the species look for it.

    Remember these figures and these considerations if you are interested in holding your own in an argument on the world's gold supply. And, if the current depression is prolonged, there will be more and more such arguments, for in the darkness of hard times is the hour of great argument about gold reserves. Which comes about this way.

    Since man has come to measure his handiwork in gold, any increase in the amount of gold available, it is argued, will make his goods more valuable in terms of gold. Other factors may make them worth more, too, and we shall come to these; but everything else aside, there seems no doubt that since the world's worth is measured in gold, if there were more gold the world would be worth more. Thus every discovery of a new supply of the metal has been accompanied by a boom. Happy days followed the discovery of America and the return of gold in galleons, the prospecting of the Forty-niners, the opening of South African and Alaskan fields. The effect, of course, is comparatively temporary, because once the world has become used to its new wealth, things settle down again -- an individual may get twice the wage, but it will cost twice as much to live. Nor is the wealth evenly distributed, nor does it increase the cost of living according to mathematical formulas, nor in direct proportion to the amount of gold discovered. But while a balance is being struck, while the new millionaire is scattering his shekels, the upward curve persists. The nouveau riche is hiring more people to wait on him and paying them more.

    The reverse of this process would occur when the world's goods increased faster than the gold supply. Relatively, gold becomes scarcer and men are willing to exchange more commodities for a given amount of it -- in other words, prices fall and the deflation is on.

    Now most arguments on gold shortage start -- with these considerations in mind – on the assumption that the world's commodities are increasing by about 3 per cent a year, so that, to maintain a stable price level, the gold on hand must increase a like amount. This it has not been doing. The rate of increase for the last ten years has been fraction less. The future, as noted, appears even more dubious. Hence, reasons one school, something must be done about it, and one of the things would be to produce more actual metal.

    However, just as we observe uncertainties in the thesis that the supply of new gold must inevitably dwindle, there are also uncertainties in connection with the computed 3 per cent increase. This much is true: if, tomorrow, very large amounts of gold were added to the world's treasury, boom times would begin the day after -- and last until that gold had been, largely speaking, digested. 

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