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The Cultural Significance of Gold

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The Cultural Significance of Gold

Why do human beings value gold?

This is a rather loaded question, one that requires the consideration of many factors in order to answer. Over the broad span of history, gold's importance to humankind has been predominantly conceptual or symbolic. It is only very recently that gold has been used in industrial applications, and this still only accounts for about 12% of the world's annual gold consumption. It is clear that gold's value is largely independent of its actual usefulness to humanity.

Yet, it is a foregone conclusion that gold is valuable to people. Perhaps the more pertinent question is, How do we value gold?

Gold Stacks

Gold is eternal, incorruptible, and virtually indestructible. It is truly a commodity unlike any other. It follows that for most cultures, gold lends itself to representations of eternity, purity, and wealth preservation. However, different cultures have developed their own characteristic ways of consuming or using gold that relate to how they view gold as a people. No culture is indifferent to the metal; it has a profound (though varied) effect on all its observers and beholders.

In order to provide a clearer answer to the question posed above, we will take a look at the top 16 gold demanding countries and analyze how their diverse modes of consumption relate to their respective cultures. Because “culture” is a large umbrella encompassing many different features of a society, each country included in our list will be considered from three different angles: how gold figures into the interests of the state; the role of gold in business and the commercial sector; and how gold is used by the populace. In most cases, the practices of the people and the policies of the government regarding gold will be complementary and reflect one another; sometimes, such as with India and Vietnam, prevailing culture and state policies will be at odds.

Further, the varying forms that gold takes in each of these countries—whether coins, bullion bars, jewelry, or otherwise—will reveal interesting details about those cultures, as well as insights about the world's fascinating love affair with gold. In this context, it may be useful to think of culture as employing unique means to arrive at the same ends. This is because, ultimately, placing importance in gold is a trait common to all human cultures; we have simply developed our own ways of expressing these commonalities—and, indeed, therein lies the essence of culture.

Gold By Country

*The data herein was calculated using the average spot price for gold in 2013, approximately $1,411.23. We have also introduced our own metric, D^g:GDP, or gold demand (in dollars) as a ratio of national GDP. We believe this percentage provides a picture of how strong a country's gold demand is relative to the size of its economy.*

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