“Naïve inflationism demands an increase in the quantity of money without suspecting that this will diminish the purchasing power of the money.” ? Ludwig von Mises, The Theory of Money and Credit
It is hardly surprising that with equity indices stalling, the financial community is increasingly worried that the long, steady bull market is coming to an end. Naturally, this makes investors look for reasons to worry, and it turns out that there are indeed many things to worry about.
In fact, there are always things to worry about. Ever since the Lehman crisis, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have been casting long shadows across the financial stage. But as financial assets have continued to rise in value over the last nine years, bearish fund managers, spooked by systemic risks of one sort or another and the perennial threat of a renewed slump, have been forced to discard their ursine views.
As often as not, it is not much more than a question of emphasis. There is always good news and bad news. As an investor, you semi-consciously choose what to believe.
There are causes for concern, of that there is no doubt. Mostly, they arise from the consequences of earlier state interventions on the money side. Governments are slowly strangling private sector production with increasingly rapacious demands on taxpayers and have been resorting to the printing press to finance the shortfalls. In reality, there is a finite limit to government spending, because it impoverishes the tax base. Yet governments, with very few exceptions, seek to conceal this truism by increasing spending and budget deficits even more. In this, President Trump is not alone.
Bankruptcy is the end result. And don’t believe the old saw about how governments can’t go bust. They can, and they do by destroying their currencies, as von Mises implied in the quote above. The naïve inflationists referred to by von Mises justify their stance by believing that inflation is invigorating, and deflation is devastating. Any and all statistics pointing to a slowdown in the growth of money supply or in the economy is therefore taken to be a forewarning of deflation.
Inflationists are simply recycling Irving Fisher’s debt-deflation theory, which is no longer relevant. Fisher held that in an economic crisis, bad debts forced banks to liquidate collateral, pushing down collateral values. And as previously sound loans lose their collateral cover, banks are forced to liquidate those as well.
But it is no longer the case. Central banks have removed the discipline of gold, so they can intervene to prevent financial and economic crises, rather than let them run their destructive courses. They have fully embraced inflationism, giving them the excuse for monetary and credit expansion as a cure-all.
Therefore, when the next crisis occurs, central banks will take steps to ensure that in aggregate the quantity of money does not contract. It is the one forecast we can make with absolute certainty. And every time a crisis happens it takes more monetary heft to get out of it. But that’s not an issue for a central bank with two overriding objectives, not the targeting of inflation and unemployment as such, but to ensure a recession never happens, and to finance, through money-printing if necessary, escalating government spending.
Minor wobbles are not the credit crisis
We must discriminate between the momentary problems faced by central banks and the inevitable crisis at the end of the credit cycle. Dealing with problems as they arise has become routine, the justification for continual inflationism. The credit crisis is a different matter. Central bankers do not seem to realise it, but the credit crisis is their own creation, the way markets eventually unwind the distortions created by earlier monetary policy. So long as central banks suppress interest rates and expand money and credit, there will be periodic credit crises to follow.