I admit to having trouble understanding why gold is so valuable. Yes I know it’s pretty. And it’s kind of hard to find.
But why do critics of U.S. monetary policy love to rant about going back to the gold standard? Right now our money is good only because the government promises it will be worth something. Wouldn’t it be better if we only have enough money to pay for the gold the government has in Fort Knox?
I don’t know. It confuses me, because I don’t understand why people think gold is so valuable. It seems like an arbitrary standard depending on people always valuing it.
Thanks to the explainers at Planet Money, I know a bit more about why gold is so valuable. They interviewed Sanat Kumar, professor of chemical engineering at Columbia University, and took us on a tour of the periodic table of elements
OK, can anyone think of two more boring topics than global economics and the periodic table of contents? Well the Planet Money team put together 19 minutes of interesting and informative minutes of why gold basically became currency.
Scientifically, it works as currency because it doesn’t degrade, is somewhat hard to find, can easily be authenticated and can be melted easily. These are all important elements when creating money – especially in a pre-industrial world.
Beyond the historical and scientific insights, there are three takeaways worth noting
We need explainers
Planet Money features several radio reporters who talk like they’re sitting down with you to explain confusing economic concepts. They do it in a light, lively way. I know that’s hard to imagine. But they can do it.
This is an engaging form of journalism that helps audiences understand hard to understand subjects. Economics is an area in desperate need of explainers. Health care and health insurance need explainers too.
Journalists will do a lot for their calling if they use their media to explain the world in an engaging and conversational style.
This is an interesting content model
Planet Money is a part of National Public Radio much like the business section is part of most newspapers. It has dedicated reporters and producers who create content specifically for podcasts and the website – unlike must newspapers.
This podcast on the gold standard is 19 minutes – which is too long for the NPR broadcast. And that’s the norm for Planet Money. But they do condense the feature into a four minute version that fits into the broadcast schedule.
This is a solid content strategy. Take a long piece and repurpose it to other mediums to expand its audience. If news organizations would do this with their Internet content, they would be in better positions to talk about putting up paywalls online.
This is hard
The reporters need to develop expertise so they can create content that makes people smarter. Interviewing experts and picking through the conversations for interesting and informative pieces is time consuming. Being able to put it all together in an interesting package is an art.
It takes skill and is relatively expensive to do. That’s why you don’t see a lot of it.
Content that is hard to find, entertains the audience and makes people smarter has value. This content is meaningfully unique.
It’s a lot like gold.