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Zimbabwean miners get paper for gold

Perhaps the fundamental fear behind every gold investment is that the paper money being gotten rid of could become worthless. In theory (probably in actuality), that fear rests with any currency not redeemable in gold or silver, which means all the world’s currencies. No world currency, not even the fabled Swiss franc can be redeemed for gold or silver at the Swiss National Bank, which is Switzerland’s central bank, the equivalent of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank.

The destruction of paper money usually comes about after the abandonment of the gold standard and the institution of fiat money, which is money by governmental decree. The dollar is money by decree, “all debts, public and private.” However, in many cases, one fiat currency is introduced to replace another fiat currency. Brazil is famous for doing that.

Before moving on to the problems faced by the Zimbabwean gold miners, I should note that since the Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944, no country has been on the gold standard. The Bretton Woods Agreement established a gold exchange standard, under which the world’s currencies were redeemable in dollars, which were redeemable in gold. Although under the Agreement, currencies’ values were fixed relative to gold, central banks that were presented their nations’ currencies for redemption actually gave the redeemer dollars.

Zimbabwe is an economic cesspool, with government regulations of nearly every facet of economic activity. One control in Zimbabwe is that all mined gold is to be sold to the Zimbabwean central bank, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ).

According to one source, gold miners are meant to be paid 35% of their production at the highly overvalued local currency and the remainder in US dollars. The RBZ pays partially in U.S. dollars because the gold mining companies need to buy equipment in foreign markets to keep operating. There is no market for Zimbabwean dollars outside Zimbabwe. Outside Zimbabwe, Zim dollars are paper.

While the official policy is for the RBZ to pay partially in U.S. dollars, the RBZ now has no U.S. dollars, or any other foreign currencies, and the gold mining companies are receiving only Zim dollars. Because Zim dollars cannot be spent outside Zimbabwe, the mining companies are unable to replace worn out equipment.

As a result, “Zimbabwe’s once proud and big gold sector could be set for a further decline,” says Tawanda Karombo, posting an article from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe produced seven tons of gold last year compared to 11 tons in 2006, their lowest level in 90 years.

Although Zimbabwe’s gold production has never rivaled that of neighbor South Africa, for nearly a hundred years it has been a solid gold producer. Now, Zimbabwe’s gold production looks set to grind to a halt, which will be positive for gold investing.