This is a reasonable question, and it seems like the answer is pretty straightforward. Of course, the United States, like any other country in gold reserves, must keep records of the volume of gold in vaults, and anyone who wants to know this information can access it. In fact, the US even publishes a report on the state of the US government’s gold reserves.
Pretty simple, isn’t it? The latest report clearly states that the country holds 261,498,926.24 ounces of gold as of April 30, 2021. According to estimates, this turns out to be about 8.171 tons. But some analysts and experts believe that things are not as simple as much else related to precious metals.
For decades, skeptics and doubters have questioned the true amount of gold that the United States actually owns. That’s not news. Back in the 1970s, there was so much doubt in society that there really was “gold” at Fort Knox that in 1974 there was a rare public opening of the vault. It would seem like this has definitely resolved the issue once and for all, right?
Of course not. This 2020 documentary about Fort Knox, released by The History Channel, describes the 1974 event and notes that this attempt to calm public doubts has only sparked new questions and skepticism. Even after the vault was opened to the public by a select group of members of Congress and journalists, here are just a few of the questions the documentary says:
- Why did they only open one vault, which only had about 12 million declared ounces of gold? How do we know if the remaining roughly 250 million ounces were really there?
- Was the gold real or could it have been tampered with with tungsten bars and gold plating? (Tungsten has the same density as gold.)
- Why did some of the gold bars look so discolored in photos and videos taken during the event? How clean was the gold in the vaults?
- Why did one sample of a gold bar, extracted and weighed for display on camera, weighed less than the bars should have weighed?
In a History Channel documentary, US officials said the scales on which the bar were weighed were of poor quality. All this only increased public suspicion.
Similar questions, posed by skeptics, were about whether the amount of physical gold stored at Fort Knox was really equal to the amount of gold that the US claims the country owns. Later in the History Channel documentary, Chris Powell (of GATA’s Gold Antitrust Committee) wonders if the gold was leased or exchanged through a US swap, even though the physical gold is in vault.
The debate continues to this day and is unlikely to end anytime soon. Skeptics will also argue that the lack of full and open transparency in precious metals markets means that we cannot take public assurances, such as the state of the gold reserve, and the opening of public vaults in 1974 and again in 2017, on faith. Of course, establishment officials will reject the skeptics’ arguments and say that things like a status report are completely transparent and can inspire public confidence.
So how much gold is in US vaults? Clearly, the answer to this question depends on who you believe. According to US officials, the answer is pretty simple. As of April 30, 2021, there were just over 261,498,926 ounces of gold in the United States. If you don’t trust US officials (or at least doubt), the answer is far from simple and hidden in an opaque world that is not truly open to the general public. You decide.
An interesting aspect of the gold debate is how some central bank and government officials working in the area of monetary regulation occasionally offer comments that gold is a relic of the past and is irrelevant to today’s monetary and financial system. On the other hand, many central banks not only own tons of gold (reportedly 33,000 tons worldwide), they also try very hard to convince the public that “it really is.”
A reasonable question to ask is, if gold is a meaningless relic of the past, why do central banks buy it in tons and why do they care if the public believes it or not?
It seems that if gold is truly meaningless and does not play any role in public confidence in the monetary system, there would be no reason to own large quantities of it or care what the public thinks about it.