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February 16, 2020

All That Glitters

Something that sets a standard for quality or reliability in a given field is often called the “gold standard.” For a big part of money’s history until the 20th century, currency was exchangeable for a set amount of gold fixed by the issuing government. For example, in 1834, the US government set the exchange rate of an ounce of gold at $20.67, where it remained for 99 years. So the expression “gold standard” came to convey a universal standard of measure. Money is no longer backed by precious metals, but is “fiat money,” backed by the government that issued it.


The Golden Rule, simply stated as “Treat others as you would like them to treat you,” is a strikingly universal concept. It has been around in some variety since at least the 6th century BC, and researchers report that the rule is “found in some form in almost every ethical religion,” and is “a concept that essentially no religion misses entirely.”

SOURCE: Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature, Why Violence Has Declined, New York, Penguin, 2011. (pg. 182)


Bling aside, pure gold is a remarkable substance. It is so dense that one ton can be packed into a cubic foot. It is the most malleable and ductile metal; gold has been pressed into a sheet two atoms thick (yes, atoms) and stretched into a one-atom wire without breaking. It conducts electricity and heat well. Plus, gold is rather immortal; it does not tarnish nor decompose in air, water, or even most strong acids and bases. This is why ocean treasure divers, tomb raiders, and other gold hunters can usually expect to find gold in good condition, regardless of its age.