Saturday, February 6, 2010

The End Game

Eleven months ago I embarked on reading Murray Rothbard’s 900-page magnum opus, Man, Economy, and State (1962). In obedience to “Rothbard’s law,” I continued to focus my attention on a subject where I lack strength. Despite being an economics major in college I never felt I had adequately learned it. Finishing Rothbard’s treatise (this week) has revamped and redeemed my education in the field. For anyone, including the layman, desiring to understand economics all the way from a primitive, Robinson Crusoe situation to the complex workings of capital and time/interest structures, this is quite literally “the only book you’ll ever need.”

The first eleven chapters of the book develop the workings of the free market from a praxeological perspective. The twelfth and final chapter introduces the “real world” of government interventions, and the far-reaching distortions that result in the marketplace. The greatest source of market distortion is the central bank (in our case, the Federal Reserve). As Rothbard’s forerunners Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek explained, central bank credit expansion and its attendant artifically low interest rates cause malinvestments which lead to unsustainable booms and inevitable busts. A by-product of the credit expansion and the stimulus used to fight the subsequent downturn is monetary inflation (price inflation comes later). Below are excerpts from the final pages, apropos to the current situation confronting the United States and the rest of the world.

One point should be stressed: the depression phase is actually the recovery phase. Most people would be happy to keep the boom period, where the inflationary gains are visible and the losses hidden and obscure. This boom euphoria is heightened by the capital consumption that inflation promotes through illusory accounting profits. The stages that people complain about are the crisis and depression. But the latter periods, it should be clear, do not cause the trouble. The trouble occurs during the boom, when malinvestments and distortions take place; the crisis-depression phase is the curative period, after people have been forced to recognize the malinvestments that have occurred. The depression period, therefore, is the necessary recovery period; it is the time when bad investments are liquidated and mistaken entrepreneurs leave the market—the time when “consumer sovereignty” and the free market reassert themselves and establish once again an economy that benefits every participant to the maximum degree. The depression period ends when the free-market equilibrium has been restored and expansionary distortion eliminated.

It should be clear that any governmental interference with the depression process can only prolong it, thus making things worse from almost everyone’s point of view. Since the depression process is the recovery process, any halting or slowing down of the process impedes the advent of recovery. The depression readjustments must work themselves out before recovery can be complete. The more these readjustments are delayed, the longer the depression will have to last, and the longer complete recovery is postponed. For example, if the government keeps wage rates up, it brings about permanent unemployment. If it keeps prices up, it brings about unsold surplus. And if it spurs credit expansion again, then new malinvestment and later depressions are spawned…

With the establishment of fiat money by a State or by a World State, it would seem that all limitations on credit expansion, or on any inflation, are eliminated. The central bank can issue limitless amounts of nominal units of paper, unchecked by any necessity of digging a commodity out of the ground. They may be supplied to banks to bolster their credit at the pleasure of the government. No problems of internal or external drain exist. And if there existed a World State, or a co-operating cartel of States, with a world bank and world paper money, and gold and silver money were outlawed, could not the World State then expand the money supply at will with no foreign exchange or foreign trade difficulties, permanently redistributing wealth from the market’s choice to its own favorites, from voluntary producers to the ruling castes?

Many economists and most other people assume that the State could accomplish this goal. Actually, it could not, for there is an ultimate limit on inflation, a very wide one, to be sure, but a terrible limit that will in the end conquer any inflation. Paradoxically, this is the phenomenon of runaway inflation, or hyperinflation

When the government and the banking system begin inflating, the public will usually aid them unwittingly in this task. The public, not cognizant of the true nature of the process, believes that the rise in prices is transient and that prices will soon return to “normal.” As we have noted above, people will therefore hoard more money, i.e., keep a greater proportion of their income in the form of cash balances. The social demand for money, in short, increases. As a result, prices tend to increase less than proportionately to the increase in the quantity of money. The government obtains more real resources from the public than it had expected, since the public’s demand for these resources has declined.

Eventually, the public begins to realize what is taking place. It seems that the government is attempting to use inflation as a permanent form of taxation. But the public has a weapon to combat this depredation. Once people realize that the government will continue to inflate, and therefore that prices will continue to rise, they will step up their purchases of goods. For they will realize that they are gaining by buying now, instead of waiting until a future date when the value of the monetary unit will be lower and prices higher. In other words, the social demand for money falls, and prices now begin to rise more rapidly than the increase in the supply of money. When this happens, the confiscation by the government, or the “taxation” effect of inflation, will be lower than the government had expected, for the increased money will be reduced in purchasing power by the greater rise in prices. This stage of the inflation is the beginning of hyperinflation, of the runaway boom

The most famous runaway inflation was the German experience of 1923. It is particularly instructive because it took place in one of the world’s most advanced industrial countries. The chaotic events of the German hyperinflation and other accelerated booms, however, are only a pale shadow of what would happen under a World State inflation. For Germany was able to recover and return to a full monetary market economy quickly, since it could institute a new currency based on exchanges with other pre-existing moneys (gold or foreign paper). As we have seen, however, Mises’ regression theorem shows that no money can be established on the market except as it can be exchanged for a previously existing money (which in turn must have ultimately related back to a commodity in barter). If a World State outlaws gold and silver and establishes a unitary fiat money, which it proceeds to inflate until a runaway boom destroys it, there will be no pre-existing money on the market. The task of reconstruction will then be enormously more difficult.
And what then? Could the result be found in Revelation 13:11-17?

1 comment:

jackscrow said...

"If a World State outlaws gold and silver and establishes a unitary fiat money, which it proceeds to inflate until a runaway boom destroys it, there will be no pre-existing money on the market. The task of reconstruction will then be enormously more difficult."

Estimated time until?

Will this world state be brought about by some catastrophy, or will be just slouch into it...?