With the Queen in Ireland, Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington and Dominique Strauss-Kahn in jail, news editors were spoilt for choice last week. As a result, a telling event in global markets – China's emergence as the world's biggest buyer of gold bars and coins – was barely reported.
I'm not complaining. When the International Monetary Fund's managing director is "perp walked" into a New York courthouse and charged with attempted rape, just about all other finance-related stories crash in value.
L'affaire Strauss-Kahn is shocking, sordid and, let's be honest, utterly compelling. It seems likely to dominate media attention in the same, episodic way that the trial of OJ Simpson did 16 years ago.
Yet, despite widespread prurient interest, the arraignment of DSK will have only a transitory effect on the IMF and its procedures. A replacement will be found – probably France's finance minister, Christine Lagarde – and bankrupt nations will continue to be bubble-wrapped against the consequences of profligacy.
By contrast, what's happening in the bullion market, and what it tells us about creditors' confidence in fiat currencies, is likely to have a profound and enduring impact on the course of international trade, the balance of economic power, and, in the end, the pounds in our pockets.
In the first quarter of 2011, Chinese investors bought 93.5 tonnes of gold, more than double the level in the same period of 2010. China has eclipsed India as the world's biggest market for gold, not because its citizens have developed a sudden urge for bling, but because they fear inflation.
They are right to do so. In China, prices are rising at more than five per cent a year, with the cost of food roaring ahead at 11.2 per cent. But at least Beijing is on the case: China's central bank has raised the cost of borrowing four times since October and has instructed its banks to slow lending.
In the United Kingdom, it's a different picture: we are stuck in the never never land of wishful thinking as a proxy for monetary policy. In April, inflation (as measured by the Consumer Price Index) bounced up to 4.5 per cent; the retail prices index, which includes mortgage costs, is running at 5.2 per cent.
Over the past five years, inflation has been above-target for 51 of the 60 months, averaging three per cent. What's more, it's heading in the wrong direction, with the Bank itself warning that CPI rises could soon reach five per cent.
On current form, by the time the Bank's governor Mervyn King retires in 2013, UK inflation will have been above-target for the best part of seven years. The Government's official guideline of two per cent for CPI has, de facto, been abandoned by the Bank of England and the Treasury.
Martin Wolf, who served on the Independent Banking Commission, wrote in the Financial Times last week that if the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee were paid a performance bonus, "its members would deserve nothing".
He was being generous. With the honourable exception of Andrew Sentance, who stepped down recently, having been for much of his time a lone voice against the perils of easy money, the MPC has failed the country.
Its forecasting record is hopeless. Worse still, its inaction has left us with prices racing ahead of pay (especially damaging for those on low incomes with no bargaining chips) and millions of savers sacrificed on the altar of "stimulating growth". How long will it be before the trade unions switch their focus from "protecting public services" to shoring up members' rapidly diminishing real wages? When that happens, the Bank's little game is over.
With each upward tick of domestic prices, the MPC's dovish majority issues fresh excuses about "temporary" factors and "external" forces, as though it has no bullets to fire against "imported" inflation. This is disingenuous.
A policy of gradually increasing interest rates, as Mr Sentance made clear in his valedictory speech, would make sterling more attractive to investors, thereby pushing up its value on foreign exchanges. A stronger pound reduces the cost of imported goods, helping to alleviate domestic price pressures.
Which brings us to the Chancellor, the guardian-in-chief of the country's monetary integrity. He doesn't set interest rates, but he can dismiss the MPC, and even the Governor, should he decide that they are not up to the task. When Margaret Thatcher suspected that Gordon Richardson, the Bank's governor 1973-83, was subverting her intentions, she handbagged him into submission.
So far, George Osborne has indicated only approval of the Bank's tactics, accepting with apparent equanimity the daily erosion of our purchasing power. A cynical man might suggest that No 11's tacit support for Dr King is reciprocation for the barely concealed backing he gave to Conservative fiscal policies, before and after the election.
Or, perhaps, Mr Osborne has accepted the argument that Britain's economy is so fundamentally feeble that even interest rates of one to two per cent, well below long-term trend, would devastate businesses and create havoc among consumers. This seems unlikely, given that the number of people employed in the UK, 29.23 million, is now above where it was in the boom year of 2006.
"Inflationists," warned Von Mises, "want depreciation, because they want to favour debtors at the expense of creditors and because they want to encourage exportation and make importation difficult… [Inflationists] recommend depreciation for the sake of… encouraging the spirit of enterprise."If this is now covert British policy, we are making a terrible mistake