- I am an avid reader of professor Antal E. Fekete articles on economics. In this article he explains the problem of stimulating the economy using debt. Can a government perpetually borrow money and spend its way out of economic depression? Will there be a point in time when an additional dollar of debt to stimulate the economy will result in no growth or even negative growth? It appears to be so.
- I am not in agreement with him regarding the final conclusion: deflation. I still think America is heading towards a hyper-inflationary depression. At the moment, assets that need debt financing to purchase will fall into deflation. That is: assets that requires consumers to borrow money from a bank to buy will fall into deflation. But goods that are purchased by cash will tend to fall into inflation. For example: House, car… deflation, food – inflation . However, with the astronomical increase in the money supply by the FedRes – we will eventually see inflation throughout the economy much like Zimbabwe.
- Professor Antal Fekete writes :
In this article……..I shall show that new money created on the strength of a flood of new debt, is tantamount to pouring gasoline on the fire, making prices fall and the economy contract even more. The Obama administration has missed its historic opportunity to stop the deflation and depression inherited from the Bush administration because it entrusted the same people with the task of damage-control who had caused the disaster in the first place: the Keynesian and Friedmanite money doctors in the Fed and the Treasury.
Watching the wrong ratio
The key to understanding the problem is the marginal productivity of debt , a concept curiously missing from the vocabulary of mainstream economics. Keynesians take comfort in the fact that total debt as a percentage of total GDP is safely below 100 in the United States while it is 100 and perhaps even more in some other countries. However, the significant ratio to watch is additional debt to additional GDP , or the amount of GDP contributed by the creation of $1 in new debt. It is this ratio that determines the quality of debt . Indeed, the higher the ratio, the more successful entrepreneurs are in increasing productivity, which is the only valid justification for going into debt in the first place.
Conversely, a serious fall in that ratio is a danger sign that the quality of debt is deteriorating, and contracting additional debt has no economic justification. The volume of debt is rising faster than national income, and capital supporting production is eroding fast. If, as in the worst-case scenario, the ratio falls into negative territory, the message is that the economy is on a collision course and crash in imminent. Not only does more debt add nothing to the GDP, in fact, it causes economic contraction, including greater unemployment. The country is eating the seed corn with the result that accumulated capital may be gone before you know it. Immediate action is absolutely necessary to stop the hemorrhage, or the patient will bleed to death.
Keynesians are watching the wrong ratio, that of debt-to-GDP. No wonder they constantly go astray as they miss one danger signal after another. They are sailing in the dark with the aid of the wrong navigational equipment. They are administering the wrong medicine. Their ambulance is unable to diagnose internal hemorrhage that must be stopped lest the patient be dead upon arrival.
Melchior Palyi’s early warning
In the 1950’s when the dollar was still redeemable in the sense that foreign governments and central banks could convert their short-term dollar balances into gold at the fixed statutory rate of $35 per ounce, the marginal productivity of debt was 3 or higher, meaning that the addition of $1 in new debt caused the GDP to increase by at least $3. By August, 1971, when Nixon defaulted on the international gold obligations of the United States (following in the footsteps of F.D. Roosevelt who had defaulted on its domestic gold obligations 35 years earlier) the marginal productivity of debt has fallen below the crucial level 1. When marginal productivity fell below $1 but was still positive, it meant that total debt (always ‘net’) was rising faster than GDP. For example, if the marginal productivity of debt was ½, then $2 in debt had to be incurred in order to increase the nation’s output of goods and services by $1. An increase in total debt by $1 could no longer reproduce its cost in the form of an equivalent increase in the GDP. Debt lost whatever economic justification it may have once had.
The decline in the marginal productivity of debt has continued without interruption thereafter. Nobody took action, in fact, the Keynesian managers of the monetary system and the economy stone-walled this information, keeping the public in the dark. Nor did Keynesian and Friedmanite economists at the universities pay attention to the danger sign. Cheerleaders kept chanting: “Gimme more credit!”
I learned about the importance of the marginal productivity of debt from the privately circulated Bulletin of Hungarian-born Chicago economist Melchior Palyi in 1969. (There were altogether 640 issues of the Bulletin; they are available in the University of Chicago Library). Palyi warned that the tendency of this most important indicator was down and something should be done about it before the debt-behemoth devoured the economy. Palyi died a few years later and did not live to see the devastation that he so astutely predicted.
Others have come to the same conclusion in other ways. Peter Warburton in his book Debt and Delusion: Central Bank Follies ThatThreaten Economic Disaster (see references below) envisages the same outcome, although without the benefit of the concept of the marginal productivity of debt.
The watershed year of 2006
As long debt was constrained by the centripetal force of gold in the system, tenuous though this constraint may have been, deterioration in the quality of debt was relatively slow. Quality caved in, and quantity took a flight to the stratosphere, when the centripetal force was cut and gold, the only ultimate extinguisher of debtthere is, was exiled from the monetary system. Still, it took 35 years before the capital of society was eroded and consumed through a steadily deteriorating marginal productivity of debt.
The year 2006 was the watershed. Late in that year the marginal productivity of debt dropped to zero and went negative for the first time ever, switching on the red alert sign to warn of an imminent economic catastrophe. Indeed, in February, 2007, the risk of debt default as measured by the skyrocketing cost of CDS (credit default swaps) exploded and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
Negative marginal productivity
Why is a negative marginal productivity of debt a sign of an imminent economic catastrophe? Because it indicates that any further increase in indebtedness would necessarily cause economic contraction. Capital is gone; further production is no longer supported by the prerequisite quantity and quality of tools and equipment. The economy is literally devouring itself through debt. The message, namely that unbridled breeding of debt through the serial cutting of the rate of interest to zero was destroying society’s capital, has been ignored. The budding financial crisis was explained away through ad hoc reasoning, such as blaming it on loose credit standards, subprime mortgages, and the like. Nothing was done to stop the real cause of the disaster, the fast-breeder of debt. On the contrary, debt-breeding was further accelerated through bailouts and stimulus packages.
In view of the fact that the marginal productivity of debt is now negative we can see that the damage-control measures of the Obama administration, which are financed through creating unprecedented amounts of new debt, are counter-productive. Nay, they are the direct cause of further economic contraction of an already prostrate economy, including unemployment.
The head of the European Union and Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek has publicly characterized president Obama’s plan to spend nearly $2 trillion to push the U.S. economy out of recession as “road to hell”. There is absolutely no reason to castigate Mr. Topolanek for this characterization. True, it would have been more polite and diplomatic if he had couched his comments in words to the effect that “the Obama plan was made in blissful ignorance of the marginal productivity of debt which was now negative and falling. In consequence more spending on stimulus packages would only stimulate deflation and economic contraction.”
- We seem to be seeing a repeat of the 1929 – 1933 stock market action. In the 1929 Great Depression stock had a major bear rally before collapsing 89% from its peak. So where should we park our money?
- Peter Cooper opines :
For an excellent assessment of what a stock market crash can mean for the future we have only to turn to The Great Crash 1929 by Professor JK Galbraith.
It is all there, a complete repeat of the run up to the stock market crash of last autumn, and its consequences – thus far. There was the Florida real estate crash as a prelude to the main act, and then a 50 per cent plunge in the Dow Jones in late 1929, just like the one in 2008.
March 1930 saw a huge rally in stock prices. March 2009 has just given us the biggest rally since 1974 (a previous market crash year). But hold on a minute, what does JK Galbraith tell us happened next?
In 1930 stocks weakened a little in April and then moved sideways into June when they plunged down again. Then they continued falling month after month for the next two years.
Our governments know this, and it does help explain the rush to push money into the economy by means fair and uncertain. The aim is clearly to break the cycle and avoid the down trend.
But will it be successful? Nobody really knows. Is it worth trying? Yes, but the evidence so far is that the Great Recession is tracking a course that is out-of-control, or rather following a pattern last seen in the 1930s.
Perhaps we should be more optimistic, and think that something more like the 1970s ‘lost decade’ is upon us. 1974 was a terrible year for global stock markets and was followed by stagflation – a mixture of low growth and high inflation.
Indeed, inflation is the only way to bail out an economy consumed by debt. In the 1930s debt deflation was allowed to take its disastrous course with public spending cuts and trade barriers making an already deteriorating cycle considerably worse.
However, anybody who has just bought into the stock market rally should really think about selling and staying out for a while. This is a time to park money in gold and silver and even exit cash, although you might care to note that cash and precious metals were the best performing asset class of the 70s, while in the 30s gold was the real star.
- The world is about to face a dramatic financial earthquake that will re-define the 21st century economic order. Many inside America still refuse to see the end of the USD hegemony. The recent warnings from foreign bureaucrats are for all to see. Peter Schiff gives his most excellent analysis on what just happened in the past few weeks :
For a few fleeting, horrifying moments this past week the fault lines that underlie the global economic crisis erupted into plain view. With deft and quick effort leaders in Washington, Europe and Asia papered over the fissures and fears largely subsided. But the shock of plain truths which resulted in violent currency movements are the latest reminder that the 21st century economic order will bear little resemblance to the world we now know.
The tremors began in Beijing, where a essay from the governor of the People’s Bank of China seemed to favor the creation of an IMF currency to replace the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve. In Europe, the rotating president of the European Union, outgoing Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, characterized America’s plan to combat the widening global recession as the “road to hell.” At same time, British Member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan made headlines the world over with his stinging rebuke of the inflationary and debt-focused policies of the current UK government.
As a result of these clearly voiced frustrations, the U.S. dollar suffered a drubbing. However, Treasury secretary Geithner and his ministerial counterparts in Berlin, Paris and London did their best to convince everyone that the world is pulling together as one to combat the economic crisis. The charm offensive was effective in restoring calm.
Given the size and scope of the remedies that the Obama Administration is cajoling the world to adopt, it is likely that the unease will grow until many countries emerge in open revolt to America’s plans.
President Obama and the majority of our leadership on both sides of the aisle are confident that the right mix of monetary and fiscal policy can restart the spending party that defined America for a generation. And as the bleary-eyed revelers wisely reach for a cup of black coffee or stumble into a rehab center, Obama is pouring grain alcohol into the punch bowl hoping to lure the walking zombies back onto the dance floor. Europe and Asia fully understand that Obama will ask them to lend the booze.
Washington is telling us that our problems result from a lack of consumer spending. Therefore, the solution is for government spending to pick up the slack. However, if Americans are too broke to spend, then how can our government spend for us? The only money they have is taken from us through taxation. To postpone immediate tax hikes (adding interest for good measure), Washington plans to borrow more from abroad. However, if our foreign creditors refuse to pony up, much of the money will simply be printed instead.
Printing money is merely taxation in another form. Rather than robbing citizens of their money, government robs their money of its purchasing power. Many people assume that if government provides the funds we can spend our way back to prosperity. However, it’s not money we lack but production. If the government simply prints money and doles it out, we will not be able to buy more stuff; we will simply pay higher prices. The only way to buy more is to produce more. It is production that creates purchasing power, not the printing press!
Our current predicament resulted in part from our efforts to maintain consumer spending at unsustainable levels, primarily by the reckless extension of consumer credit. Pushing up consumer credit to levels not supported by market realities required government subsidies and guarantees. In addition, Wall Street pitched in with securitization and credit default swaps, which created a false sense of confidence among our creditors that high risk consumer loans could actually be repaid. However, now that all those gimmicks have blown up, the entire farce has been exposed. There is simply no way to sustain an economy based on consumer credit.
The Administration argues that more debt will restore growth which will then allow the repayment of borrowed money. First, our government has never, and will never, repay anything. Second, the assumption that additional borrowing and spending will restore growth is flawed. In fact, more consumer debt and government spending will undermine our economy and restrain growth.
To solve our problems we must first come to terms with their source. That is what the voices from abroad are telling us. We borrowed and spent ourselves to the brink of bankruptcy, and now we must save and produce ourselves back to prosperity.
Of course, this simple solution is rejected by Keynesian economists who insist that we must keep spending. The “paradox of thrift,” as they call it, holds that if we stop spending the recession will worsen. While this is true, it is hardly a paradox. As they say in the fitness game, “no pain, no gain.” No one said this was going to be easy, but the only way to rebuild a viable economy is to let the phony one collapse. If we follow the Keynesians, the fault lines will continue to widen until our wealth, our lifestyle, our very ability to prosper is swallowed up. The calls from abroad will only get louder until we face this ugly truth.
- See also :
Peter Schiff – Bernanke Completely Clueless!
Peter Schiff – US Dollar and Bond Bubble
Peter Schiff tells Saudis : Nobody Will Want Dollar ! Buy Gold and Gold Mining Shares.
Max Keiser Interviews Peter Schiff on Middle East Oil Economies, Inflation & Quantitative Easing.
Peter Schiff – Stimulus Bill Will Lead to Unmitigated Disaster
Peter Schiff on US Economy
Peter Schiff – Obama Stimulus Plan and Big Government
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- Financial journalist Ambrose E. Pritchard gives his view on gold.