[FOUNTAIN]The gold standard

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[FOUNTAIN]The gold standard

Gold has a wicked charm to just about anyone. It has no particular usefulness, but its mysterious brilliance has captivated countless souls.
On his first voyage to America, Christopher Columbus sang praises of gold, saying that having it meant having a ticket to heaven. Even Adam Smith, the father of economics, said, “No paint or dye can give so splendid a color as gilding.”
Since ancient times, gold has received special treatment. In ancient Egypt, only the Pharaoh could use gold. God also chose gold as the material for sacred treasures. Gold is mentioned in more than 400 passages in the Bible, more frequent appearances than many prophets.
Why in the name of God is gold treasured so much? Gold has three very distinct qualities. It is durable, ductile and rust-free. One ounce of gold, about 28 grams, can be made into 80 kilometers of thread or can be beaten into a sheet of 9 square meters. The metal is so resistant to corrosive agents that the gold-capped tooth found on an Egyptian mummy from 4,500 years ago can still be used today.
Gold is measured in karats, and 24 karats mean pure gold. Ancient Lydians were the first people to make gold coins. They made touchstones, or Lydian stones, and rubbed things made out of gold on the touchstone. The trace of the metal would be compared to 24 needles, which were standard samples of different alloys of gold, silver, and copper. The 24th needle was pure gold.
What sets gold apart from other metals is its scarcity. Gold can be found in all five oceans and six continents, but it is not abundant anywhere. You have to break 30 tons of rock and dig into 50 tons of soil for one ounce of gold. No other metal makes you go through such trouble.
Due to these peculiar characteristics, mankind has dug up 128,000 tons of gold in history. Made into one big lump, it could be loaded on an average sized container ship, and POSCO can produce the same volume of steel in just two days.
The international gold price is fluctuating. Last week, one ounce of gold traded at $700, the highest price in 26 years. There is a forecast that the price of gold will break $1,000 per ounce. The highest recorded price of gold was $850 on Jan. 21, 1980. The New York Times reported that the price would soar to $1,000 in six months, but the price dropped by $200 that day. Three years later, the price of gold was halved. In “The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession,” economic consultant Peter Bernstein wrote, “People believe that gold is a refuge until it is taken seriously; then it becomes a curse.”


by Yi Jung-jae

The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

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