Gold, Silver, Debt To GDP, Wealth Preservation

“I think if everyone was to hold a little gold and silver (say 1%) it would send a message to the government that we are tired of inflation. Part of the goal of the FED raising interest rates is to get people to stop spending money and to invest it in bonds. I propose that instead of putting all your cash in bonds, what if many people considered buying just a $100 or $1,000 or $5,000 of physical gold or silver?”

The USA has ever increasing national debt. You’ve probably heard about it recently due to the silliness around raising the debt ceiling. Republicans always make a huge stink about it when they are in control of either the House or the Senate and there is a Democratic president but make no mention of deficits when a Republican is president. Anyway.

Regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on, every increasing debt is an issue because it is related to inflation. The government continually funding operations with printed money leads to inflation which reduces your purchasing power. In extreme cases this can lead to currency collapse as we have seen in Argentina, Sri Lanka and Lebanon recently. 

When this happens, locals basically lose all savings they have in cash. 

There are a few things to do to maintain purchasing power. One is to invest in the stock market. This has historically been a good place to hold money to maintain purchasing power over the long term. Holding German stocks after WWII, in Germany, even kept you mostly ahead of inflation!

Historically, gold and silver have been money. But in the Roman empire silver coins were subject to debasement as emperors melted down existing coins and made 2 coins with the silver previously used for 1 coin and continued for 200 years until they completely destroyed the value of their currency. 

The United States did this in 3 steps. In 1930 there was Executive Order 6102 which essentially forced Americans and “gold hoarders” to turn in their gold to the US government for a set price, $20.67 (equivalent to $433 in 2021) per troy ounce. The order also permitted any person to hold up to $100 in gold coins, a face value equivalent to 5 troy ounces (160 g) of gold valued at approximately $10,000 in 2020. The 1934 Gold Reserve Act subsequently changed the statutory gold content of the U.S. Dollar from $20.67 to $35 an ounce.

So, the Government basically paid people $20.67 for their gold, then said, you can’t buy it back, but if you could it would cost you $35/oz. Seems pretty crazy!

Step 2 of United States Currency debasement happened in 1964. Up to this time half dollars, quarters and dimes were made of 90% silver. After 1964 they were made mostly of cheaper copper. 

The final straw that broke the dollar’s link with gold was in August 1971 Nixon ended the convertibility of US dollars to gold on the international market. Up until this time, while much of international trade was done in US dollars, technically, anytime any nation holding US dollars could ask the USA for the equivalent value of gold. Because the USA had been printing money for years it would have been impossible to redeem all the US dollars that existed for gold, so we basically said, “you can’t”. It was technically a type of default on the US dollar!

All the above context is just for historic purposes to get around to the point below and to mention why gold and silver are not used as money today. Governments always print more money than they can pay back. It happened in Rome, it happened in America, and it will likely happen again hundreds of years in the future (unless Bitcoin takes over as hard money, but that is a topic for a different post!)

Back to government debt, “Since 1800, 51 out of 52 countries with gross government debt greater than 130% have defaulted, either through restructuring, devaluation, high inflation or outright default. The IMF expects US government (USG) debt to GDP to be a record

141% by year-end 2020.” – Hirschmann Capital 

This was partially due to the reduced GDP from Covid but also due to increased gov spending. In 2023 you can see Debt to GDP is “down” to only 120%. 

So, what is the average person to do? As mentioned above, holding stocks is a good option. I personally do hold most of my wealth in stocks. Real Estate is another option that many people use. Bitcoin is also something I personally hold. I think Bitcoin has many long term benefits for wealth preservation. You can also hold bonds. But if you are holding a bond paying 5% and inflation continues up to 10% or 100%, like Argeintia, that won’t preserve your wealth. But this post is about physical Gold and Silver. I think holding physical gold and silver probably provides a little of a long term hedge against long term inflation. In the short term it certainly can be very volatile. But holding cash is always destined to go down over time. While over time, gold and silver are destined to go up, especially gold. 

You can see the declining value of the dollar here

While you can see the value of gold rising over time below. 

Silver chart, can be toggled to be inflation adjusted

Gold chart, can be toggled to be inflation adjusted

If you want to learn some more about the history of gold as currency this was a great video I watched/listened to. 

If you want to learn about buying physical gold and silver there are plenty of great youtube videos. Here is a video about buying silver I listened to recently. 

Here is another good channel – SpegTacular

I am only allocating a small percentage of my net worth towards physical gold and silver about 1% of total net worth, for now. In the grand scheme of things, I think this might not be very impactful. Some data says that “12% Of All Americans Own Gold, 14.7% Own Silver” .

I think if everyone was to hold a little gold and silver (say 1%) it would send a message to the government that we are tired of inflation. Part of the goal of the FED raising interest rates is to get people to stop spending money and to invest it in bonds. I propose that instead of putting all your cash in bonds, what if many people considered buying just $100 or $1,000 or $5,000 of physical gold or silver? Buying gold and silver would achieve the same end goal the government wants of removing money from the system, but then people would end up holding something of value, physical gold and silver, instead of bonds, which are currently returning 5% while inflation is at 7% or more yet. You are losing money holding bonds.

To be absolutely clear, I don’t think everyone should go sell all their stocks and put 100% into physical gold. But I think allocating 1% smartly for the reasons above is a pretty good idea. 

I don’t have time here to review why I have been specifically saying “physical gold and silver” so many times. But this has been reviewed in many places.

Here is a good video and here is a good article about why physical gold or silver over paper gold and silver. 

Personally I have used to buy gold and silver online and always check their deals page.  I get no commission off this, just sharing my experience.
This guy also made a ranking of many of the online bullion dealers. 

US Government Debt

A new idea I had the other day (which I’m sure many other people have had before me), was “Remove Fear With Knowledge”. With that idea in mind I am going to start by thinking about removing the fear of the “US Foreign Debt Crisis” by sharing some information about it.

The USA has so much debt!
Our debt has increased to $X trillion dollars.
China owns to much of our debt!

The headlines cry. The topic of debt of a country is no small matter, especially when it’s your own country. We start to talk in trillions of dollars. At that level most people just breeze over the numbers. They just can’t fathom them. Most people probably don’t believe that these numbers have any effect on their lives and that “the system will sort itself out” so they don’t worry abou it too much. But some people do get to thinking about these numbers, usually with incorrect facts. I wanted to read a bit into who exactly owns the US debt. How much debt do we own of other countries? And other thoughts related to debt.

To find the most up to date numbers here is the US DEBT CLOCK. From now on I will be referencing various article for general snapshot from recent points in history but for the latest rough numbers use the debt clock.

Here are the debt clocks for many different countries.

You might ask what exactly is a debt? An debt is a liability that a government owes to another government or person. I personally own about $1,000 in individual EE bonds from the US government. Each bond returns a different interest rate depending on when it was purchased. The reason I own the bonds are because they are helping my money grow. Making my money work for me. This is good because if money is not growing by being in bonds or in some other investment like a stock or if I am not investing it in some other company that money is effectively losing value because of inflation. Inflation is a good thing. It encourages people to spend money and look for ways to make money grow. If you have deflation it leads to people not spending money because it will be worth more the next day. This can lead to an economic death if no one is willing to spend money!

Why does the USA issue debt?

The USA issues debt so it can balance its budget. The US government has a yearly budget (sometimes) that they (usually) exceed. To make up the difference they need to get more money from somewhere. People and other governments actually give their money to the US government to meet this deficit.

What does the US government do with this money?

They pay for roads, schools, military and other services for the US people.  The US government has a budget that is part mandatory and part discretionary. This is an important distinction to understand

“71 percent of our 2015 budget is Mandatory.  Discretionary spending is only 29 percent our total budget.Of our Discretionary spending, half goes to defense.” “ – agenerationempowered

Why would people give their money to a government that is overspending?

People give their money to the government in exchange for a promise of more money in the future. A bond is really a type of loan from you (or another government) to our government.

Is the USA the only country in debt?

NO! There are only 5 (tiny) countries in the world with no debt. The list of all countries by their total debt can be found here.

Doesn’t China hold all our debt? What will happen if they decide to collect on it?

Only ⅓ of our total debt is held by foreign governments or individuals and China only own a fraction of that. In order for “all debt to be collected tomorrow” that would require that the people who hold that debt would have thought of a better way to make money on their investments other than the US debt. It’s unlikely that’d happen all at once so there is little likelihood of all the debt being simultaneously collected at once. Also if something as massive and disruptive as that was proposed we could always just say no. Being the most powerful country in the world it would take a war to get your money back. Luckily the US government is, mostly, trustworthy, and usually pays their bonds back. But not all governments do.

You can read more about Argentina’s debt crisis here.

“He buys debt from countries, such as Peru and Congo-Brazzaville, that have defaulted. He gets this “distressed debt” for pennies on the dollar. Then he tries to force those countries to pay up through international courts. It’s a take-no-prisoners approach to debt negotiations. It’s time-consuming, it’s costly and it can get ugly. But the profits can be huge. In Peru’s case, for example, Singer paid a reported $11 million but won court judgments for $58 million, which the South American republic eventually paid because it had no choice. These tactics have won Singer and other such firms the nickname “Vulture Funds.”’ – Buzzfeed

The US has not hit a point where it is not paying its debts back.

Who owns US debt?

Many individual people and parts of the US government (Social Security) own US debt (of other parts of the US government) (65.6%) ($11.71 trillion dollars) while some foreign governments also hold US debt (34.4%) (totaling $6.147 billion dollars) when the US debt was $17.86 trillion. While these numbers all change slowly over time they more or less remain steady percent wise while overall debt is rising. So any debt we tried to reduce payments on would actually end up hurting our own citizens more than foreign holders of debt.

You can find the link to the table below here for US debt held by foreign countries.


What debt of other countries does the US hold?


Added answer 9-25-02017

I am adding a link to a picture created by Visual Capitalist that shows pictorially how much debt the USA is owed by other countries compared to how much we owe. It also breaks down which countries owe us money vs. which we owe money to.

Original answer:
As you can see from the table below the US holds debt of other countries equal to $9.4 trillion dollars. This is compared to our own total debt of $19 trillion dollars. The debt we hold of foreign countries should be compared to the debt other countries hold of ours.

We owe $6.147 Tillion dollars to foreign governments.

Foreign governments owe us $9.455 trillion dollars.

You can see in this comparison we actually come out ahead $3.308 trillion dollars. That sounds like a good position to be in!

You can find the link to the “Report On U.S. Portfolio Holdings Of Foreign Securities” here. Table shown below.


Why does the US debt keep going up? Is that ok? When will we have to pay back our debt?

To understand why the US debt can keep going up you need to rethink your idea of the US government. The government is not like a family. Ideally, the government will not end. Therefore there is never a time when all the debt will come due. Old debt comes due every day and it is paid. New debt is issued everyday also.

It’s ok for the debt to keep going up as long as the people of the country keep making more. Debt is a count of ability to repay in the future. If the government continues to collect taxes it will continue to pay back its debts. If we are always projecting making more in the future we can borrow more. There is no projected end date for government operation so there is not a need to pay off debt.

How should we quantify debt?

Debt is obviously counted in dollars. But how do we know if it’s a lot of debt or not? Debt is often compared to Gross Domestic Product. This is how much money a country makes in goods each year. I don’t see this as a very useful measure since the government doesn’t get all the money of it’s GDP. Debt would more usefully be compared to the taxes a government takes in since that is the money it is able to use to pay the debt.

“The federal government took in a record of approximately $3.2 trillion in taxes in fiscal 2015 (which ended on Sept. 30), according to the Monthly Treasury Statement released today. That equaled approximately $21,833 for every person in the country who had either a full-time or part-time job in September.” – CSN news

This is compared to the US debt of $19.5 trillion.

You should also realize that each state in the USA has it’s own budget. All states are also in debt.  You can ready more about that here.

It is not useful to be scared of debt. The best reaction is to understand it and what it really means.