What's a Worse Investment Than Gold? The Gold ETF!

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Karl Smith notes that gold ETFs manage the tricky feat of being an even worse bet than gold:


As bad of an investment as gold is, the Gold Exchange Trade Fund or GLD ETF, is even worse.  Generally speaking real gold prices have been volatile but fairly flat overtime - indeed declining generally since the 70s run-up.Real gold price 1970-2009, inflation adjusted at 2007 prices (constant prices, real prices)

However, you can tell some story that in the Frozen Hellscape that emerges after the collapse of the US economy you will be sitting on a pile of the shinny metal which has held value since antiquity. While you're munching on your Glenn Beck endorsed Food Insurance pouch, you'll be comfortable in the knowledge that you can purchase a few wares from fellow wanderers with all the gold you have been stockpiling.

Fine, but GLD ETF is not actual gold. Its a fund and one that is likely to go down in flames along with the rest of the economy.

I'm going to dispute the notion that gold is a good hedge against the apocalypse.  In the event that the US economy melts down so far that buying gold was a good alternative to holding US dollars, then buying canned goods, ammunition, and medical supplies was an even better alternative to gold.  The only scenario I can think of in which it makes sense to stockpile a lot of gold is one where you and your household goods are unexpectedly teleported into the sixteenth century.  If you worry a lot about this, then by all means, stockpile gold.  But you should also probably take the precaution of stockpiling antibiotics and how-to books on dentistry.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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