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The world has gone wild for the cryptocurrency known as Bitcoin.
One Bitcoin would set you back $4,425 at the time of writing. That’s up from less than $600 a year ago, according to CoinBase.
But a word of caution: Gold is still a better bet for anyone who wants to own a time-tested asset.
- Gold has a 5,000-year history as a long-term store of wealth. Bitcoin doesn’t even have a hundred-year track record.
- There is always a ready and liquid market for gold. Even during the financial crisis when the market other securities just dried up you could buy and sell your gold with ease. Bitcoin was invented in 2008, part way through the crisis, so we don’t know whether it would truly pass this test until we have the next crisis.
- Gold can protect you from nuclear radiation. It’s commonly known that lead can protect humans from gamma rays. Gold does the same but even better than lead as long as you have enough of it. Bitcoin provides no such protection.
- Gold is safer. Stealing volumes of the metal can be surprisingly hard. The industry standard 400-ounce gold bar, worth a little more than $500,000 each at the time of writing, is particularly unwieldy to move. If you are in any doubt take a visit to a friendly gold vault and ask to lift one such bar. To abscond with a haul of $5 million you’d need to move 1o such ingots, which would be time-consuming for the thief. For cryptocurrencies, stealing large dollar values is easy, at least judging by a quick scan of the news stories which cover such heists.
- You can wear gold as jewelry. Not so much for Bitcoin.
- Gold is a superb electrical conductor, which is why it is used in electronics for space travel. Bitcoin doesn’t conduct electricity.
- Gold has never been out of fashion. Never! It’s hard to tell with Bitcoin, it’s just too new.
- You don’t need a web connection to use your gold. For ease of use, your Bitcoin wallet needs the internet for you to transfer it or spend it. The website Coinsutra.com explains the Bitcoin situation in some more detail: “I only use web wallets to keep small amounts of bitcoins, similar to a wallet in my pocket for daily transactions. […] And I use desktop wallets to keep bitcoins which I am not using for daily transactions. So that whenever required, I can quickly connect my desktop wallet to the Bitcoin network and transfer bitcoins.” In other words, the web is a vital part of the matter.
- Gold never tarnishes even when it has been languishing on the ocean floor for hundred of years. Never. Bitcoin doesn’t either, but then again it’s not metal.
- Gold is an aphrodisiac. I’ve seen champagne served with gold leaf in it and burgers sprinkled with gold flakes on top. Not so much, Bitcoin. That’s probably because you can’t eat Bitcoin.
- Bitcoin is clearly in a speculative bubble. When the bubble ends lots of money will be lost. Gold isn’t in any bubble.
- “Bitcoin is still experimental,” according to Bitcoin.org. Not so much for gold.
Simon Constable is a writer, economics commentator, and a fellow at The Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health and the Study of Business Enterprise.