Ever since President Nixon broke the US dollar's last link to gold, the world has been set adrift on a sea of fiat currencies that have been increasingly debased, serving the interests of governments and financial elites. For the last five years, central banks have imposed near-zero rates of interest that have helped push up stock, bond, and real estate prices, but have made it nearly impossible for savers to receive meaningful returns on bank deposits.
To make matters worse, the apparatus of national security has turned financial transactions into a massive exercise in government surveillance. Under the camouflage of 'protective' measures, such as the USA PATRIOT Act, governments have invaded the privacy of citizens and compromised banking secrecy in an unprecedented and often unconstitutional manner. Despite huge potential transaction-cost reductions achievable through advances in digital technology, banks continue to charge exorbitant transaction fees while maintaining transfer delays that reflect a pre-digital age. In addition, bank regulators, led by the IMF, have shown a willingness, in the case of Cyprus, to make depositors liable for poor banking decisions. Many private citizens may naturally see the status quo as a deliberate policy to crush middle-class savers and pave the way for centralized socialism. Some have sought a way out.
Traditionally, investors have turned to precious metals such as gold to help protect and privately transfer their wealth. However, ever-increasing regulation, monitoring, and physical searches have eroded some of the key protections afforded by gold. Gold's weakness over the past 24 months has also spooked many former adherents. In such an environment, many have seen the recent arrival of digital crypto-currencies as the means to restore the monetary independence that has been co-opted by big governments. Currencies like the now-famous Bitcoin offer the potential for a store of value, low transaction costs, free movement, and anonymity. It's no wonder that Bitcoin has taken the world by storm. But all that glitters is not gold.