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The Long And Tragic History Of The Pound

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http://www.moneyweek.com/investments/currencies/fiat-money-inflation-gbp-pound-sterling-10405.aspx

The long and tragic history of the pound By Dominic Frisby Feb 02, 2011

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Sterling's had an awful century

I was lucky enough to be at Cheviot Asset Management's conference on sound money last week. As a result of what I heard there, I've begun reading Andrew Dickson White's Fiat Money Inflation In France, a short but utterly compelling history of the monetary events leading up the French Revolution.

The whole process has turned me into even more of a gold bug, if such a thing were possible. In fact, it's put me in one of those frames of mind where I want to get rid of every last pound, dollar and euro I have, buy bullion, and make a run for it.

One thing in particular was really rammed home to me – what an absolute, complete and utter dog the pound has been for the last 97 years. Even by the standards of other Western government currencies – most of which, ultimately, will be worth little more than the paper they're printed on – it has been awful.

Let me explain.

The pound's purchasing power has plummeted

One of the speakers was the Mexican billionaire Hugo Salinas Price, who, now in his retirement, is spearheading a campaign to get silver re-introduced as money. He held up a one pound coin. "This piece of brass," he said in a voice eerily reminiscent of Marlon Brando's Don Corleone, "is one of your pounds. The famous pound. The backbone of your great empire."

Then, in his other hand he held up another coin, a gold sovereign. "A hundred years ago this was your pound – 7.32 grammes of pure gold."

Gesturing with the brass, he said: "It took me 235 of these," - he motioned with the sovereign - "to buy one of these".

In other words, the purchasing power of the pound has fallen by 235 times in a hundred years.

Below is a chart I found a few years ago in a 2003 House of Commons paper. I have posted it before. It shows the purchasing power of the pound from 1750 to 2002.

Notice how consistent the pound's purchasing power was from 1750 until 1914. During that period a sovereign was a pound. We were on a gold standard. But in 1914 we came off, so that our government could print the money it needed to pay for World War One. (In fact if monetary discipline had been maintained, that war would have had ended just a few months after it began. Neither the British, nor the Germans, had the money to pay for it.)

Almost as soon as we came off the gold standard, the pound's purchasing power declined. There was a rally when Winston Churchill put us back on in the 1920s. But since we came off again in the early 1930s, the purchasing power of the pound has fallen and fallen and fallen.

It has continued to fall since the end of that chart in 2002, as the cost of food, energy, housing – most things, in other words – has risen.

One of the other speakers, James Turk, the founder and president of Goldmoney, presented another chart, which my regular readers will also be familiar with. It shows crude oil prices since 1950, measured in pounds, dollars, euros and gold.

If you look at the red line, which shows the crude oil price measured in gold, you can see that crude oil prices are pretty much the same as they were 50 years ago. That's amazing when you think about it – crude oil prices measured in gold are pretty much unchanged.

The next line up, in purple, shows oil prices in deutschmarks/euros. The price has risen, but, for a fiat currency, the deutschmark-euro has held its purchasing power fairly well (although it's also worth noting that it held its purchasing power better as a deutschmark than as a euro).

Then in green we see the benchmark oil price in US dollars. The loss of purchasing power is awful. But it gets worse.

The blue line at the top of the pile of junk represents the currency that buys you the least oil – our Great British pound. Mr Turk could at least have saved us some face by charting the oil price in Italian lira as well.

Is it any wonder that so many of us have sought refuge from this destruction of our money over the decades by buying property? At least some of your wealth gets preserved. Some buy houses because they 'only go up'. As a nation, we are obsessed with them as investment. But really it is just that our money buys us less and less.

How has the pound been allowed to fall like this?

What I find amazing is that the first chart, a most graphic illustration of what has happened to our money, comes from a House of Commons paper. And yet in the last 70 years – for two generations – no politician of note has seriously called or campaigned for proper monetary reform. Indeed, nor have the British people.

How has this debasement been allowed to happen? I think it's the boiling-frog syndrome. We don't notice it on a week-to-week or year-to-year basis, unless it happens 'too quickly', as in the 1970s. In fact, we seem to accept this endless erosion in our purchasing power as normal. But it isn't.

It's because we operate under this 'fiat' system, whereby governments and banks have the ability to issue money and credit. There are not the same restrictions on the creation of money as there are on a metallic system, so the supply of money has grown exponentially. And just as with anything else, the more money there is, the less it buys you.

In fact, this system actually incentivises the creation of new money. Those closest to money's issuance (banks and borrowers) benefit most from it at the expense of those furthest from it (savers and those on fixed income). They get to buy services and assets before prices have risen to reflect the new money in circulation and, in the case of banks, they get to charge interest on it too.

As long as we have this system, more and more money will be created, money will buy you less, bubbles will get blown, mal-investment will continue, banks will continue to earn insane amounts of money, and those furthest from money's issuance will feel poorer and poorer as each week passes.

Protect yourself from this system

Has this system enrichened us? Or has it tricked us? We enjoy a higher standard of living than ever before, but is that simply because mankind has advanced? In fact more and more working hours seem necessary just to enjoy a ordinary middle class lifestyle, as my colleague Merryn Somerset Webb has blogged about on a number of occasions (The middle classes died a long time ago). It's something to think about.

Some may point to the recent strength in the pound, and the fact that it has rallied above $1.61 against the US dollar in recent weeks. But ultimately, that is just comparing junk with rubbish.

The way to protect yourself from all of this is to get out of money and into things – shares, commodities, wine, fine art, anything – and hope that the asset you choose rises to reflect the new money in circulation. Indeed, this is why we have this rampant asset price inflation.

And if, like me, you're really bearish, and you think there is only so much more of this that the monetary system can take, you want to buy gold. (By the way, if you want to read that short history of Fiat Money Inflation In France, and I recommend you do, it's here. Substitute the names of the French protagonists with those of Ben Bernanke, Mervyn King, Tim Geithner, et al. The pronouncements are the same. Plus ça change...)

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There is a huge mistake in your arguement or the arguement presented.

In that the £ today is simply NOT the £ which existed 230 odd years ago. Each time we've come off a gold/silver standard we have had a new currency. Each time we go back on it is again a new fiat currency same when we come off.

If you change the base of the currency say 1971 then it again is a new fiat currency. Since fiat currencies last 40-50 years the modern £ is about to become obsolete since the last major change in 1971.

Thus, the £ in the last 100 or so years, according to my dodgy history.

We were on the gold standard, then WWI happened and we came off it, we went back on it before wwii then went off it again, then decimalisation.

Thus from 1900-2010 there have been at least Four versions of the £.

Edited by ken_ichikawa

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There is a huge mistake in your arguement or the arguement presented.

In that the £ today is simply NOT the £ which existed 230 odd years ago. Each time we've come off a gold/silver standard we have had a new currency. Each time we go back on it is again a new fiat currency same when we come off.

If you change the base of the currency say 1971 then it again is a new fiat currency. Since fiat currencies last 40-50 years the modern £ is about to become obsolete since the last major change in 1971.

I'm not really sure what point you are making, but you seem to reinforce the writers view.

In simple terms-

Fiat Currency (whatever the type) - Bad for cash and bond holders. Better for real asset holders.

Gold/Silver backed currency - Good for cash and bond holders. Worse for real asset holders.

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Sorry, but this sounds oversimplified me. I love these articles, like the ones that say "shares outperform houses" that includes reinvested dividends, but conveniently forget to add or reinvest rental yields for property.

The funny thing is the if you stuck (if they existed) a 'brass' in an interest bearing (or beating, for the last 8 years ive had a savings account opened, even with instant access ive always managed to get 0.5-2.5% ABOVE base rate) savings account you'd still be far better off than with the gold one, assuming an interest rate over 100 years of 8%. - But worse off if this was only 5%.

Assuming a long run averaged interest rate of 8% and 5%, your pound would be worth...

1 1 1

2 1.08 1.05

3 1.17 1.1

4 1.26 1.16

5 1.36 1.22

6 1.47 1.28

7 1.59 1.34

8 1.71 1.41

9 1.85 1.48

10 2 1.55

11 2.16 1.63

12 2.33 1.71

13 2.52 1.8

14 2.72 1.89

15 2.94 1.98

16 3.17 2.08

17 3.43 2.18

18 3.7 2.29

19 4 2.41

20 4.32 2.53

21 4.66 2.65

22 5.03 2.79

23 5.44 2.93

24 5.87 3.07

25 6.34 3.23

26 6.85 3.39

27 7.4 3.56

28 7.99 3.73

29 8.63 3.92

30 9.32 4.12

31 10.06 4.32

32 10.87 4.54

33 11.74 4.76

34 12.68 5

35 13.69 5.25

36 14.79 5.52

37 15.97 5.79

38 17.25 6.08

39 18.63 6.39

40 20.12 6.7

41 21.72 7.04

42 23.46 7.39

43 25.34 7.76

44 27.37 8.15

45 29.56 8.56

46 31.92 8.99

47 34.47 9.43

48 37.23 9.91

49 40.21 10.4

50 43.43 10.92

51 46.9 11.47

52 50.65 12.04

53 54.71 12.64

54 59.08 13.27

55 63.81 13.94

56 68.91 14.64

57 74.43 15.37

58 80.38 16.14

59 86.81 16.94

60 93.76 17.79

61 101.26 18.68

62 109.36 19.61

63 118.11 20.59

64 127.55 21.62

65 137.76 22.7

66 148.78 23.84

67 160.68 25.03

68 173.54 26.28

69 187.42 27.6

70 202.41 28.98

71 218.61 30.43

72 236.09 31.95

73 254.98 33.55

74 275.38 35.22

75 297.41 36.98

76 321.2 38.83

77 346.9 40.77

78 374.65 42.81

79 404.63 44.95

80 437 47.2

81 471.95 49.56

82 509.71 52.04

83 550.49 54.64

84 594.53 57.37

85 642.09 60.24

86 693.46 63.25

87 748.93 66.42

88 808.85 69.74

89 873.56 73.22

90 943.44 76.89

91 1018.92 80.73

92 1100.43 84.77

93 1188.46 89.01

94 1283.54 93.46

95 1386.22 98.13

96 1497.12 103.03

97 1616.89 108.19

98 1746.24 113.6

99 1885.94 119.28

100 2036.82 125.24

Obviously, if you let it gather dust under the matress, then it would still be worth just £1. But so long as it accrues interest, the compound effect will be quite profound. At 8% you'd be 9 times better off than owning gold, but at 5%, the gold would be worth over 80% more. Given that most people have savings accounts, so long as they watch the rates, they might see the purchasing power fall but certainly not by 235 times.

I do agree now is a good time to hold metals. But over the past 100 years, stocks or property or probably anything that produces an income as well as appreciation has been better than gold. Its been crappy as an investment if you bought 100 years ago.

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Sorry, but this sounds oversimplified me. I love these articles, like the ones that say "shares outperform houses" that includes reinvested dividends, but conveniently forget to add or reinvest rental yields for property.

The funny thing is the if you stuck (if they existed) a 'brass' in an interest bearing (or beating, for the last 8 years ive had a savings account opened, even with instant access ive always managed to get 0.5-2.5% ABOVE base rate) savings account you'd still be far better off than with the gold one, assuming an interest rate over 100 years of 8%. - But worse off if this was only 5%.

Assuming a long run averaged interest rate of 8% and 5%, your pound would be worth...

1 1 1

2 1.08 1.05

3 1.17 1.1

4 1.26 1.16

5 1.36 1.22

6 1.47 1.28

7 1.59 1.34

8 1.71 1.41

9 1.85 1.48

10 2 1.55

11 2.16 1.63

12 2.33 1.71

13 2.52 1.8

14 2.72 1.89

15 2.94 1.98

16 3.17 2.08

17 3.43 2.18

18 3.7 2.29

19 4 2.41

20 4.32 2.53

21 4.66 2.65

22 5.03 2.79

23 5.44 2.93

24 5.87 3.07

25 6.34 3.23

26 6.85 3.39

27 7.4 3.56

28 7.99 3.73

29 8.63 3.92

30 9.32 4.12

31 10.06 4.32

32 10.87 4.54

33 11.74 4.76

34 12.68 5

35 13.69 5.25

36 14.79 5.52

37 15.97 5.79

38 17.25 6.08

39 18.63 6.39

40 20.12 6.7

41 21.72 7.04

42 23.46 7.39

43 25.34 7.76

44 27.37 8.15

45 29.56 8.56

46 31.92 8.99

47 34.47 9.43

48 37.23 9.91

49 40.21 10.4

50 43.43 10.92

51 46.9 11.47

52 50.65 12.04

53 54.71 12.64

54 59.08 13.27

55 63.81 13.94

56 68.91 14.64

57 74.43 15.37

58 80.38 16.14

59 86.81 16.94

60 93.76 17.79

61 101.26 18.68

62 109.36 19.61

63 118.11 20.59

64 127.55 21.62

65 137.76 22.7

66 148.78 23.84

67 160.68 25.03

68 173.54 26.28

69 187.42 27.6

70 202.41 28.98

71 218.61 30.43

72 236.09 31.95

73 254.98 33.55

74 275.38 35.22

75 297.41 36.98

76 321.2 38.83

77 346.9 40.77

78 374.65 42.81

79 404.63 44.95

80 437 47.2

81 471.95 49.56

82 509.71 52.04

83 550.49 54.64

84 594.53 57.37

85 642.09 60.24

86 693.46 63.25

87 748.93 66.42

88 808.85 69.74

89 873.56 73.22

90 943.44 76.89

91 1018.92 80.73

92 1100.43 84.77

93 1188.46 89.01

94 1283.54 93.46

95 1386.22 98.13

96 1497.12 103.03

97 1616.89 108.19

98 1746.24 113.6

99 1885.94 119.28

100 2036.82 125.24

Obviously, if you let it gather dust under the matress, then it would still be worth just £1. But so long as it accrues interest, the compound effect will be quite profound. At 8% you'd be 9 times better off than owning gold, but at 5%, the gold would be worth over 80% more. Given that most people have savings accounts, so long as they watch the rates, they might see the purchasing power fall but certainly not by 235 times.

I do agree now is a good time to hold metals. But over the past 100 years, stocks or property or probably anything that produces an income as well as appreciation has been better than gold. Its been crappy as an investment if you bought 100 years ago.

Yes but gold bugs are forced to ignore compound interest since their chosen asset doesn't pay any. :rolleyes:

We can post this again if it helps (but for some reason I doubt it). h/t Ham again.

http://www.bondvigilantes.co.uk/blog/2011/02/01/1296576900000.html

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There is a huge mistake in your arguement or the arguement presented.

In that the £ today is simply NOT the £ which existed 230 odd years ago. Each time we've come off a gold/silver standard we have had a new currency. Each time we go back on it is again a new fiat currency same when we come off.

If you change the base of the currency say 1971 then it again is a new fiat currency. Since fiat currencies last 40-50 years the modern £ is about to become obsolete since the last major change in 1971.

Thus, the £ in the last 100 or so years, according to my dodgy history.

We were on the gold standard, then WWI happened and we came off it, we went back on it before wwii then went off it again, then decimalisation.

Thus from 1900-2010 there have been at least Four versions of the £.

Quite. How long would you have had to have worked to earn the sovereign 100 years ago? About the same number of hours as now? Ooh, maybe the real value of a pound now is similar to then. How it's purchasing power is measured in units of arbitrary metal seems a bit irrelevant to real life.

Apples, pears , oranges - a nonsense article.

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Yes but gold bugs are forced to ignore compound interest since their chosen asset doesn't pay any. :rolleyes:

We can post this again if it helps (but for some reason I doubt it). h/t Ham again.

http://www.bondvigilantes.co.uk/blog/2011/02/01/1296576900000.html

Im not saying that gold hasnt been a good investment over the past 10 years and likely will be for the next 10.

I just feel some of the Gold obsessives remind me of the HPI cult. Gold, like everything, has a value in cash terms. It wont go up in a straight line trajectory all the time, as some of the time it makes sense for money to find its way elsewhere. It is possible to buy gold at the wrong time.

Im a 'dont put your eggs all in one basket' person. I have some gold, some cash, some investments. I wont become rich, but shouldnt suffer too much either.

Interesting graph, though in the article i dont see any specific mention of gold, and my adobe wont work properly.

a.jpg

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Quite. How long would you have had to have worked to earn the sovereign 100 years ago? About the same number of hours as now? Ooh, maybe the real value of a pound now is similar to then. How it's purchasing power is measured in units of arbitrary metal seems a bit irrelevant to real life.

Apples, pears , oranges - a nonsense article.

Yep - how about comparing it to something like food ? Would make a bit more sense.

Today a worker in the UK over the age of 21, on minimum wage, will receive a 'token' of £5.93 per hour.

For this they can get a ready meal cooked for them, complete with sauces, napkins, use of a bathroom, a seat, served and are free to sit on anothers premises to eat it for as long as they wish.

Would the same value of an hours work for those on the 'equaivalent' wage 250 years ago have gained the same reward ?

I very much doubt it. So has hte purcashing ppower of a £ actually fallen over that period ? Doesn't look like it.

Very simplistic example of course. Then again - so is comparing a bit of paper to a bit of metal.

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Interesting graph, though in the article i dont see any specific mention of gold, and my adobe wont work properly.

a.jpg

I doubt that graph will be relevant again in the UK for the next decade or two. Times are changing.

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  • 284 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

    1. 1. Including the effects Brexit, where do you think average UK house prices will be relative to now in June 2020?


      • down 5% +
      • down 2.5%
      • Even
      • up 2.5%
      • up 5%



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