Gold: As dull as it is shiny

Gold bars are seen at the Czech Central Bank in Prague.

Au. Bling. Gilt.

No matter what you call it, the mention of gold brings a certain sparkle to the eye of most of us. But how and why did gold become the basis for much of the global economy?

Our every-now-and-then contributor Justin Rowlatt from the BBC has been working on a series called Elementary Business all about the chemical elements that make the economy go 'round. He says gold, despite being the "most charismatic of all elements," is actually quite boring.

"It's quite easy to see of the 118 elements there are in the periodic table, why many of them just simply wouldn't be suitable for currency. For example, a gaseous currency? It's never going to be that good is it? I mean, carrying around little vials of colorless gas will make it pretty hard to establish what you've got. Then you've got all these reactive elements. You don't want an explosive currency. So it turns out the fact that gold is so uninteresting is one of the reasons why it's so useful."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, the most widely heard program on business and the economy in the country.


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