What is gold really worth?

About $1,650 per ounce. Not an all-time high but quite a change from $35 when I was a child. What is responsible for gold's grand ascendancy?

If you are hungry, you can't eat it. If you are cold, you can't wear it. If you need shelter, forget about it. Of course, you can sell it and address all of those needs. But its rapid and seemingly endless rise suggests far more purchases than sales.

Gold does not yield interest or dividends. In fact, it involves storage and safeguarding expenses. And it does not convey an ownership interest (like stocks) in another enterprise or venture.

The question of gold's real value has assumed public policy importance as the Republican Party flirts with the idea of returning to the Gold Standard. To many, this is a welcome respite from assaults on womens’ rights, birther speculation, and assaults on regulation as the root cause of our economic malaise. But does it make sense?

I can understand the lure of gold in countries with weak currencies or unstable governments. I can also appreciate that hoarding by investment vehicles like exchange traded funds applies upward pressure on gold's price because, after all, gold has a limited supply. And I can do nothing about doomsayers who buy the stuff out of simple fear. And yet, none of this explains fully why gold is some 47 times more expensive than in my youth.

All things are "worth" what people are willing to pay for them. So, the real question may be why people are willing to do so. For years, I looked to economists for answers, but maybe psychiatrists are a better resource. The whole thing simply baffles me.

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