I am going to break from regular market commentary to step back and think about the big picture as it relates to debt and inflation. Let’s call it philosophical Friday. But don’t worry, there will be no bearded left-wing rants. This will definitely be a market-based exploration of the bigger forces that affect our economy.
One of the greatest debates within the financial community centers around debt and its effect on inflation and economic prosperity. The common narrative is that government deficits (and the ensuing debt) are bad. It steals from future generations and merely brings forward future consumption. In the long run, it creates distortions, and the quicker we return to balancing our books, the better off we will all be.
I will not bother arguing about this logic. Chances are you have your own views about how important it is to balance the books, and no matter my argument, you won’t change your opinion. I will say this though. I am no disciple of the Krugman “any stimulus is good stimulus” logic.
The broken window fallacy is real and digging ditches to fill them back in is a net drain on the economy. Full stop. You won’t hear any complaints from me there.
Yet, the obsession with balancing the government’s budget is equally damaging. In a balance sheet challenged economy the government is often the last resort for creating demand. Trying to balance a government deficit in this environment (like the Troika imposed on Greece during the recent Euro-crisis) is a disaster waiting to happen.
Have a look at these charts from the NY Times outlining the similarity of the Greece depression to the American Great Depression of the 1930s.
Now you might look at these charts and say, “Greece spent too much and suffered the consequences. Ultimately they will be better off taking the hit and reorganizing in a more productive economic fashion.” If so, you probably also still have this poster hanging in your room at your parent’s house where you grew up.
Personally, I don’t want to even bother discussing the possibility of this sort of Austrian-style-rebalancing coming to Western democracies. Yeah, it might be your dream, but it’s just a dream. I have Salma Hayek on my freebie list, but what do I think of my chances? About as close to zero without actually ticking at the perfect zero level. It’s not a “can’t happen,” but it’s certainly a “it’s not going to happen in a million years.”