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It was almost exactly one year ago to the day that an entire nation was frozen out of its savings… overnight.
Cypriots went to bed on Friday thinking everything was fine. By the next morning, they had no way to pay bills or buy food.
It’s certainly a chilling reminder of how quickly things can change. And why.
The entire crisis sprang from a mountain of debt. The government had accumulated too much debt. The banking system had accumulated too much debt.
And banks had lost a lot of their customers’ money making risky, stupid bets on things like Greek government bonds.
By March 2013, Cypriot banks were almost entirely devoid of cash.
Sure, customers could log on to a website and check their bank balances.
But there’s a huge difference between a number displayed on a screen, and a well-capitalized bank that actually holds abundant cash.
The government was too insolvent to bail anyone out. And as a member of the eurozone, Cyprus didn’t have the ability to print its own money.
So they did the only thing they could think of– confiscate customer deposits.
And they imposed capital controls on top of that to make sure that people couldn’t withdraw their remaining funds out of the banks as soon as the freeze was lifted.
It was a truly despicable act. But again, even though it all unfolded overnight, the warning signs were building for at least a year. Especially the debt.
When countries, central banks, and commercial banks accumulate too much debt, and specifically too much debt relative to assets, you can be certain there is trouble ahead in the system.
Think about it like your own personal finances. If you have a million dollars in debt, that seems like a lot. But if you own a home worth $5 million, you are still in good shape financially.
If, on the other hand, you have a million dollar mortgage for a home that’s worth $250,000, you’re in deep trouble.
The US government’s official, ‘on the books’ debt now exceeds $17.5 trillion. This is an enormous figure.
If the Uncle Sam just happened to have $20 trillion or so laying around, however, this debt load wouldn’t be a big deal. But that’s not the case.
By the US government’s own admission, their own financial statements show net equity (assets minus liabilities) of MINUS $16.9 trillion.
That’s including ALL the assets: Every tank. Every bullet. Every body scanner. Every highway.
Then you have to look at the Central Bank, which is itself teetering on insolvency.
The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has exploded since 2008, and right now the Fed’s net equity (assets minus liabilities) is about $56 billion.
That’s a razor-thin 1.34% of its $4 trillion in assets (it was 4.5% before the crisis).
Here’s the thing: in its own annual report, the Fed just admitted that it had accumulated ‘unrealized losses’ totaling $53 billion. This is almost the Fed’s ENTIRE EQUITY.
So in the Land of the Free, you now have an insolvent government and insolvent central bank underpinning a commercial banking system that is incentivized to make risky, stupid bets with their customers’ money.
To be fair, I’m not suggesting that bank accounts in the US are going to be frozen tomorrow morning.
But a rational person should recognize that the warning signs are very similar to what they were in Cyprus last year.
And if there is one thing we can learn from the Cyprus bail-in, it’s that it behooves any rational person to have a plan B, even if you think the future holds nothing but sunshine and smiley faces.
Having a plan B can mean a lot of different things depending on your situation– moving some funds abroad, securing a second source of income, having an escape hatch overseas, owning physical gold, holding extra cash, etc.
You’re not going to be worse off for having a plan B based on the possibility that there -could- be some problems down the road.
But if those consequences are ever realized,and Plan B becomes Plan A, it might just turn out to be the smartest move you’ve ever made.
If you think this makes sense then I encourage you to sign up for our free Notes From the Field if you haven’t already done so, and you can also share this article with your friends below so they’re not without a plan B if things do take a turn for the worse.
March 17, 2014
Dallas, Texas, USA
Mises Daily: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 by Thorsten Polleit
Credit is a wonderful tool that can help advance the division of labor, thereby increasing productivity and prosperity. The granting of credit enables savers to spread their income over time, as they prefer. By taking out loans, investors can implement productive spending plans that they would be unable to afford using their own resources.
The economically beneficial effects of credit can only come about, however, if the underlying credit and monetary system is solidly based on free-market principles. And here is a major problem for today’s economies: the prevailing credit and monetary regime is irreconcilable with the free market system.
At present, all major currencies in the world — be it the US dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen, or the Chinese renminbi — represent government sponsored unbacked paper, or, “fiat” monies. These monies have three characteristic features. First, central banks have a monopoly on money production. Second, money is created by bank lending — or “out of thin air” — without loans being backed by real savings. And third, money that is dematerialized, can be expanded in any quantity politically desired.
A fiat money regime suffers from a number of far-reaching economic and ethical flaws. It is inflationary, it inevitably causes waves of speculation, provokes bad investments and “boom-and-bust” cycles, and generally encourages an excessive built up of debt. And fiat money unjustifiably favors the few at the expense of the many: the early receivers of the new money benefit at the expense of those receiving the new money at a later point in time (“Cantillon Effect”).
One issue deserves particular attention: the burden of debt that accumulates over time in a fiat money regime will become unsustainable. The primary reason for this is that the act of creating credit and money out of thin air, accompanied by artificially suppressed interest rates, encourages poor investments: malinvestments that do not have the earning power to service the resulting rise in debt in full.
Governments are especially guilty of accumulating an excessive debt burden, greatly helped by central banks providing an inexhaustible supply of credit at artificially low costs. Politicians finance election promises with credit, and voters acquiesce because they expect to benefit from government’s “horn of plenty.” The ruling class and the class of the ruled are quite hopeful that they can defer repayment to future generations to sort out.
However, there comes a point in time when private investors are no longer willing to refinance maturing debt, let alone finance a further rise in indebtedness of banks, corporations, and governments. In such a situation, the paper money boom is doomed to collapse: rising concern about credit defaults is a deadly enemy to the fiat money regime. And once the flow of credit dries up, the boom turns into bust. This is exactly what was about to happen in many fiat currency areas around the world in 2008.
A fiat money bust can easily develop into a full-scale depression, meaning failing banks, corporations filing for bankruptcy, and even some governments going belly up. The economy contracts sharply, causing mass unemployment. Such a development will predictably be interpreted as an ordeal — rather than an economic adjustment made inevitable by the ravages of the preceding fiat money boom.
Everyone — those of the ruling class and those of the class of the ruled — will predictably want to escape disaster. Threatened with extreme economic hardship and political desperation, their eyes will turn to the central bank which, alas, can print all the money that is politically desired to keep overstretched borrowers liquid, first and foremost banks and governments.
Running the electronic printing press will be perceived as the policy of the least evil — a reaction that could be observed many times throughout the troubled history of unbacked paper money. Since the end of 2008, many central banks have successfully kept their commercial banks afloat by providing them with new credit at virtually zero interest rates.
This policy is actually meant to make banks churn out even more credit and fiat money. More credit and money, provided at record low interest rates, is seen as a remedy of the problems caused by an expansion of credit and money, provided at low interest rates, in the first place. This is hardly a confidence-inspiring route to take.
It was Ludwig von Mises who understood that a fiat money boom will, and actually must, ultimately end in a collapse of the economic system. The only open question would be whether such an outcome will be preceded by a debasement of the currency or not:
The boom cannot continue indefinitely. There are two alternatives. Either the banks continue the credit expansion without restriction and thus cause constantly mounting price increases and an ever-growing orgy of speculation, which, as in all other cases of unlimited inflation, ends in a “crack-up boom” and in a collapse of the money and credit system. Or the banks stop before this point is reached, voluntarily renounce further credit expansion and thus bring about the crisis. The depression follows in both instances.
A monetary policy dedicated to averting credit defaults by all means would speak for a fairly tough scenario going forward: depression preceded by inflation. This is a scenario quite similar to what happened, for instance, in the fiat money inflation in eighteenth-century France.
According to Andrew Dickson White, France issued paper money
seeking a remedy for a comparatively small evil in an evil infinitely more dangerous. To cure a disease temporary in its character, a corrosive poison was administered, which ate out the vitals of French prosperity.
It progressed according to a law in social physics which we may call the “law of accelerating issue and depreciation.” It was comparatively easy to refrain from the first issue; it was exceedingly difficult to refrain from the second; to refrain from the third and with those following was practically impossible.
It brought … commerce and manufactures, the mercantile interest, the agricultural interest, to ruin. It brought on these the same destruction which would come to a Hollander opening the dykes of the sea to irrigate his garden in a dry summer.
It ended in the complete financial, moral and political prostration of France — a prostration from which only a Napoleon could raise it. 
Note: The views expressed in Daily Articles on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
Thorsten Polleit is chief economist of the precious-metals firm Degussa and co-founder of the investment boutiquePolleit & Riechert Investment Management LLP. He is honorary professor at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management and associated scholar of the Mises Institute. He was awarded the 2012 O.P. Alford III Prize in Libertarian Scholarship. His website is www.Thorsten-Polleit.com. Send him a mail. See Thorsten Polleit’s article archives.
 Ludwig von Mises. Interventionism: An Economic Analysis. Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1998. P. 40.
 Andrew Dickson White. Fiat Money Inflation in France, How It Came, What It Brought, and How It Ended. D. Appleton-Century Company Inc., New York and London: D. Appleton-Century, 1933. S. 66.b
Today, more than 10,000 Baby Boomers will retire. This is going to happen day after day, month after month, year after year until 2030. It is the greatest demographic tsunami in the history of the United States, and we are woefully unprepared for it. We have made financial promises to the Baby Boomers worth tens of trillions of dollars that we simply are not going to be able to keep. Even if we didn’t have all of the other massive economic problems that we are currently dealing with, this retirement crisis would be enough to destroy our economy all by itself. During the first half of this century, the number of senior citizens in the United States is being projected to more than double. As a nation, we are alreadydrowning in debt. So where in the world are we going to get the money to take care of all of these elderly people?
The Baby Boomer generation is so massive that it has fundamentally changed America with each stage that it has gone through. When the Baby Boomers were young, sales of diapers and toys absolutely skyrocketed. When they became young adults, they pioneered social changes that permanently altered our society. Much of the time, these changes were for the worse.
According to the New York Post, overall household spending peaks when we reach the age of 46. And guess what year the peak of the Baby Boom generation reached that age?…
People tend, for instance, to buy houses at about the same age — age 31 or so. Around age 53 is when people tend to buy their luxury cars — after the kids have finished college, before old age sets in. Demographics can even tell us when your household spending on potato chips is likely to peak — when the head of it is about 42.
Ultimately the size of the US economy is simply the total of what we’re all spending. Overall household spending hits a high when we’re about 46. So the peak of the Baby Boom (1961) plus 46 suggests that a high point in the US economy should be about 2007, with a long, slow decline to follow for years to come.
And according to that same article, the Congressional Budget Office is also projecting that an aging population will lead to diminished economic growth in the years ahead…
Lost in the discussion of this week’s Congressional Budget Office report (which said 2.5 million fewer Americans would be working because of Obamacare) was its prediction that aging will be a major drag on growth: “Beyond 2017,” said the report, “CBO expects that economic growth will diminish to a pace that is well below the average seen over the past several decades [due in large part to] slower growth in the labor force because of the aging of the population.”
So we have a problem. Our population is rapidly aging, and an immense amount of economic resources is going to be required to care for them all.
Unfortunately, this is happening at a time when our economy is steadily declining.
The following are some of the hard numbers about the demographic tsunami which is now beginning to overtake us…
1. Right now, there are somewhere around 40 million senior citizens in the United States. By 2050 that number is projected to skyrocket to 89 million.
2. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 46 percent of all American workers have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, and29 percent of all American workers have less than $1,000 saved for retirement.
3. One poll discovered that 26 percent of all Americans in the 46 to 64-year-old age bracket have no personal savings whatsoever.
4. According to a survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, “60 percent of American workers said the total value of their savings and investments is less than $25,000”.
5. 67 percent of all American workers believe that they “are a little or a lot behind schedule on saving for retirement”.
6. A study conducted by Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research found that American workers are $6.6 trillion short of what they need to retire comfortably.
7. Back in 1991, half of all American workers planned to retire before they reached the age of 65. Today, that number has declined to 23 percent.
8. According to one recent survey, 70 percent of all American workers expect to continue working once they are “retired”.
9. A poll conducted by CESI Debt Solutions found that 56 percent of American retirees still had outstanding debts when they retired.
10. A study by a law professor at the University of Michigan found that Americans that are 55 years of age or older now account for 20 percent of all bankruptcies in the United States. Back in 2001, they only accounted for 12 percent of all bankruptcies.
11. Today, only 10 percent of private companies in the U.S. provide guaranteed lifelong pensions for their employees.
12. According to Northwestern University Professor John Rauh, the total amount of unfunded pension and healthcare obligations for retirees that state and local governments across the United States have accumulated is 4.4 trillion dollars.
13. Right now, the American people spend approximately 2.8 trillion dollars on health care, and it is being projected that due to our aging population health care spending will rise to an astounding 4.5 trillion dollars in 2019.
14. Incredibly, the United States spends more on health care than China, Japan, Germany, France, the U.K., Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Australia combined.
15. If the U.S. health care system was a country, it would be the 6th largest economy on the entire planet.
16. When Medicare was first established, we were told that it would cost about $12 billion a year by the time 1990 rolled around. Instead, the federal government ended up spending $110 billion on the program in 1990, and the federal government spent approximately $600 billion on the program in 2013.
17. It is being projected that the number of Americans on Medicare will grow from 50.7 million in 2012 to 73.2 million in 2025.
18. At this point, Medicare is facing unfunded liabilities of more than 38 trillion dollars over the next 75 years. That comes to approximately$328,404 for every single household in the United States.
19. In 1945, there were 42 workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits. Today, that number has fallen to 2.5 workers, and if you eliminate all government workers, that leaves only 1.6 private sector workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits.
21. Overall, the Social Security system is facing a 134 trillion dollar shortfall over the next 75 years.
22. The U.S. government is facing a total of 222 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities during the years ahead. Social Security and Medicare make up the bulk of that.
So where are we going to get the money?
That is a very good question.
The generations following the Baby Boomers are going to have to try to figure out a way to navigate this crisis. The bright future that they were supposed to have has been destroyed by our foolishness and our reckless accumulation of debt.
But do they actually deserve a “bright future”? Perhaps they deserve to spend their years slaving away to support previous generations during their golden years. Young people today tend to be extremely greedy, self-centered and lacking in compassion. They start blogs with titles such as “Selfies With Homeless People“. Here is one example from that blog…
Of course not all young people are like that. Some are shining examples of what young Americans should be.
Unfortunately, those that are on the right path are a relatively small minority.
In the end, it is our choices that define us, and ultimately America may get exactly what it deserves.
US lawmakers reached a budget deal this week that will avert the sequester cuts and shutdowns. These fiscal “roadblocks” supposedly damaged investor confidence in 2013, although clearly no one told equity investors who’ve chased the S&P 500 up 26 percent this year. But even so the budget deal is seen by inflationists as only half the battle won, because it doesn’t deal with the pesky debt ceiling. Unsurprisingly, the old calls for a scrapping of the debt ceiling are being heard afresh.
Last week, The Week ran an opinion piece by John Aziz which argues that America (and all other nations for that matter) should keep borrowing until investors no longer want to lend to it. To this end, it is argued, the US should scrap its debt ceiling because the only debt ceiling it needs is the one imposed by the market. When the market doesn’t want to lend to you anymore, bond yields will rise to such an extent that you can no longer afford to borrow any more money. You will reach yournatural, market-determined debt ceiling. According to this line of reasoning, American bond yields are incredibly low, meaning there is no shortage of people willing to lend to Uncle Sam. So Washington should take advantage of these fantastically easy loans and leverage up.
Here’s part of the key paragraph from Aziz:
Right now interest rates are very low by historical standards, even after adjusting for inflation. This means that the government is not producing sufficient debt to satisfy the market demand. The main reason for that is the debt ceiling.
What this fails to appreciate is that interest rates are a heavily controlled price in all of today’s major economies. This is particularly true in the case of America, where the Federal Reserve controls short-term interest rates using open market operations (i.e., loaning newly printed money to banks) and manipulates long-term interest rates using quantitative easing. By injecting vast amounts of liquidity into the economy, the Fed makes it appear as though there is more savings than there really is. But US bond yields are currently no more a reflection of the market’s demand for US debt than a price ceiling on gasoline is a reflection of its booming supply. Contra the view expressed in The Week, low rates brought about by contrived zero-bound policy rates and trillions of dollars in QE can mislead the federal government into borrowing more while at the same time pushing savers and investors out of US bond markets and into riskier assets like corporate bonds, equities, exotic derivatives, emerging markets, and so on.
Greece once thought that the market was giving it the green light to “produce” more debt. Low borrowing rates for Greece were not a sign of fiscal health, however, but really just layer upon layer of false and contrived signals arising from easy ECB money, allowing Greece to hide behind Germany’s credit status. As it turned out, a legislative debt ceiling in Greece (one that was actually adhered to) would have been a far better idea than pretending this manipulated market was a fair reflection of reality. Investors were happy to absorb Greece’s debt until suddenly they weren’t.
This is the nature of sovereign debt accumulation driven by easy money and credit bubbles. It’s all going swimmingly until it’s not. And there is little reason to think this time the US is different. Except that America might be worse. The very fact of the Fed buying Treasuries with newly printed money proves Washington is producing too much debt. China even stated recently that it saw no more utility accumulating any more dollar debt assets. If the whole point of QE is to monetize impaired assets, then the Fed likely sees Treasury bonds as facing considerable impairment risk. Theory and history are clear about the reasons for and consequences of large-scale and persistent debt monetization.
Finally, it is wrong to assert that the debt ceiling is the main reason for America’s fiscal deficit reduction. The ceiling has never provided a meaningful barrier to America’s borrowing ambitions, hence the dozens of upward adjustments to the ceiling whenever it threatens to crimp the whims of Washington’s profligate classes. America’s rate of new borrowing is falling because all the money it has printed washed into the economic system and found its way back into tax revenues. Corporate profits are soaring to all-time highs on dirt cheap trade financing. Corporate high-grade debt issuance has set a new record in 2013. Companies are rolling their short-term debts, now super-cheap thanks to Bernanke’s money machine, and issuing long, into a bubbly IPO and corporate bond market. The last time corporate profits surged like they’re doing now was during the credit and housing bubble that preceded the unraveling and inevitable bust in 2008/09.
These are money and credit cycle effects. The debt ceiling has had precious little to do with it. Moreover, US debt is neither crimped nor the US Treasury Department austere. Instead, the national debt is soaring, $60,000 higher for every US family since Obama took office and rising. Add to this the fact that the US Treasury’s bond issuance schedule is actually set to rise in 2014 due to huge amounts of maturing debt needing to be rolled over next year, and the fiscal significance of the debt ceiling fades even further.
The singular brilliance of the debt ceiling however, is that it keeps reminding everyone that there is a growing national debt that never seems to shrink. That is a tremendous service to American citizens who live in the dark regarding the borrowing machinations of their political overlords. Yes, politicians keep raising the debt ceiling, but nowadays they have to bend themselves into ever twisty pretzels trying to explain why to their justifiably skeptical and cynical constituents. Most people don’t understand bond yields, quantitative easing, and Keynesian pump-a-thons too well, but they sure understand a debt ceiling.
Those who adhere to the don’t-stop-til-you-get-enough theory of sovereign borrowing, and by extension argue for a scrapping of the debt ceiling, couldn’t be more misguided. In free markets with no Fed money market distortion, interest rates can be a useful guide of the amount of real savings being made available to borrowers. When borrowers want to borrow more, real interest rates will rise, and at some point this crimps the marginal demand for borrowing, acting as a natural “debt ceiling.” But when markets are heavily distorted by central bank money printing and contrived zero-bound rates, interest rates utterly cease to serve this purpose for prolonged periods of time. What takes over is the false signals of the unsustainable business cycle which fools people into thinking there is more savings than there really is. Greece provides a recent real-world case study of this very phenomenon in action. In these cases we are likely to see low rates sustained during the increase in government borrowing, only for them to quickly reset higher and plunge a country into a debt trap which may force default or extreme money printing.
Debt monetization has a proven track record of ending badly. It is after all the implicit admission that no one but your monopoly money printer is willing to lend to you at the margin. The realization that this is unsustainable can take a while to sink in, but when it does, all it takes is an inevitable fat-tail event or crescendo of panic to topple the house of cards. If the market realizes it’s been duped into having too much before the government decides it’s had enough, a debt crisis won’t be far away.
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Russell Lamberti is head strategist at ETM Analytics, in charge of global and South African macroeconomic, financial market, and policy strategy within the ETM group. Follow him on Twitter. See Russell Lamberti’s article archives.
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A paper currency system contains the seeds of its own destruction. The temptation for the monopolist money producer to increase the money supply is almost irresistible. In such a system with a constantly increasing money supply and, as a consequence, constantly increasing prices, it does not make much sense to save in cash to purchase assets later. A better strategy, given this senario, is to go into debt to purchase assets and pay back the debts later with a devalued currency. Moreover, it makes sense to purchase assets that can later be pledged as collateral to obtain further bank loans. A paper money system leads to excessive debt.
This is especially true of players that can expect that they will be bailed out with newly produced money such as big businesses, banks, and the government.
We are now in a situation that looks like a dead end for the paper money system. After the last cycle, governments have bailed out malinvestments in the private sector and boosted their public welfare spending. Deficits and debts skyrocketed. Central banks printed money to buy public debts (or accept them as collateral in loans to the banking system) in unprecedented amounts. Interest rates were cut close to zero. Deficits remain large. No substantial real growth is in sight. At the same time banking systems and other financial players sit on large piles of public debt. A public default would immediately trigger the bankruptcy of the banking sector. Raising interest rates to more realistic levels or selling the assets purchased by the central bank would put into jeopardy the solvency of the banking sector, highly indebted companies, and the government. It looks like even the slowing down of money printing (now called “QE tapering”) could trigger a bankruptcy spiral. A drastic reduction of government spending and deficits does not seem very likely either, given the incentives for politicians in democracies.
So will money printing be a constant with interest rates close to zero until people lose their confidence in the paper currencies? Can the paper money system be maintained or will we necessarily get a hyperinflation sooner or later?
There are at least seven possibilities:
1. Inflate. Governments and central banks can simply proceed on the path of inflation and print all the money necessary to bail out the banking system, governments, and other over-indebted agents. This will further increase moral hazard. This option ultimately leads into hyperinflation, thereby eradicating debts. Debtors profit, savers lose. The paper wealth that people have saved over their life time will not be able to assure such a high standard of living as envisioned.
2. Default on Entitlements. Governments can improve their financial positions by simply not fulfilling their promises. Governments may, for instance, drastically cut public pensions, social security and unemployment benefits to eliminate deficits and pay down accumulated debts. Many entitlements, that people have planned upon, will prove to be worthless.
3. Repudiate Debt. Governments can also default outright on their debts. This leads to losses for banks and insurance companies that have invested the savings of their clients in government bonds. The people see the value of their mutual funds, investment funds, and insurance plummet thereby revealing the already-occurred losses. The default of the government could lead to the collapse of the banking system. The bankruptcy spiral of overindebted agents would be an economic Armageddon. Therefore, politicians until now have done everything to prevent this option from happening.
4. Financial Repression. Another way to get out of the debt trap is financial repression. Financial repression is a way of channeling more funds to the government thereby facilitating public debt liquidation. Financial repression may consist of legislation making investment alternatives less attractive or more directly in regulation inducing investors to buy government bonds. Together with real growth and spending cuts, financial repression may work to actually reduce government debt loads.
5. Pay Off Debt. The problem of overindebtedness can also be solved through fiscal measures. The idea is to eliminate debts of governments and recapitalize banks through taxation. By reducing overindebtedness, the need for the central bank to keep interest low and to continue printing money is alleviated. The currency could be put on a sounder base again. To achieve this purpose, the government expropriates wealth on a massive scale to pay back government debts. The government simply increases existing tax rates or may employ one-time confiscatory expropriations of wealth. It uses these receipts to pay down its debts and recapitalize banks. Indeed the IMF has recently proposed a one-time 10-percent wealth tax in Europe in order to reduce the high levels of public debts. Large scale cuts in spending could also be employed to pay off debts. After WWII, the US managed to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio from 130 percent in 1946 to 80 percent in 1952. However, it seems unlikely that such a debt reduction through spending cuts could work again. This time the US does not stand at the end of a successful war. Government spending was cut in half from $118 billion in 1945 to $58 billion in 1947, mostly through cuts in military spending. Similar spending cuts today do not seem likely without leading to massive political resistance and bankruptcies of overindebted agents depending on government spending.
6. Currency Reform. There is the option of a full-fledged currency reform including a (partial) default on government debt. This option is also very attractive if one wants to eliminate overindebtedness without engaging in a strong price inflation. It is like pressing the reset button and continuing with a paper money regime. Such a reform worked in Germany after the WWII (after the last war financial repression was not an option) when the old paper money, the Reichsmark, was substituted by a new paper money, the Deutsche Mark. In this case, savers who hold large amounts of the old currency are heavily expropriated, but debt loads for many people will decline.
7. Bail-in. There could be a bail-in amounting to a half-way currency reform. In a bail-in, such as occurred in Cyprus, bank creditors (savers) are converted into bank shareholders. Bank debts decrease and equity increases. The money supply is reduced. A bail-in recapitalizes the banking system, and eliminates bad debts at the same time. Equity may increase so much, that a partial default on government bonds would not threaten the stability of the banking system. Savers will suffer losses. For instance, people that invested in life insurances that in turn bought bank liabilities or government bonds will assume losses. As a result the overindebtedness of banks and governments is reduced.
Any of the seven options, or combinations of two or more options, may lie ahead. In any case they will reveal the losses incurred in and end the wealth illusion. Basically, taxpayers, savers, or currency users are exploited to reduce debts and put the currency on a more stable basis. A one-time wealth tax, a currency reform or a bail-in are not very popular policy options as they make losses brutally apparent at once. The first option of inflation is much more popular with governments as it hides the costs of the bail out of overindebted agents. However, there is the danger that the inflation at some point gets out of control. And the monopolist money producer does not want to spoil his privilege by a monetary meltdown. Before it gets to the point of a runaway inflation, governments will increasingly ponder the other options as these alternatives could enable a reset of the system.
Note: The views expressed in Daily Articles on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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Philipp Bagus is an associate professor at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. He is an associate scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and was awarded the 2011 O.P. Alford III Prize in Libertarian Scholarship. He is the author of The Tragedy of the Euro and coauthor of Deep Freeze: Iceland’s Economic Collapse. The Tragedy of the Euro has so far been translated and published in German, French, Slovak, Polish, Italian, Romanian, Finnish, Spanish, Portuguese, British English, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, Bulgarian, and Chinese. See his website. Send him mail. Follow him on Twitter @PhilippBagus See Philipp Bagus’s article archives.
“Governments cannot reduce their debt or deficits and central banks cannot taper. Equally, they cannot perpetually borrow exponentially more. This one last bubble cannot end (but it must).”
I often refer to debt serfdom, the servitude debt enforces on borrowers. The mechanism of this servitude is interest, and today I turn to two knowledgeable correspondents for explanations of the consequences of interest.
Correspondent D.L.J. explains how debt/interest is the underlying engine of rising income/wealth disparity:
Here is a table of the growth rate of the GDP.
If we use $16T as the approximate GDP and a growth rate of, say, 3.5%, the total of goods and services would increase one year to the next by about $500B.
Meanwhile, referencing the Grandfather national debt chart with the USDebtClock data, the annual interest bill is $3 trillion ($2.7 trillion year-to-date).
In other words, those receiving interest are getting 5-6 times more than the increase in gross economic activity.
Using your oft-referenced Pareto Principle, about 80% of the population are net payers of interest while the other 20% are net receivers of interest.
Also, keep in mind that one does not have to have an outstanding loan to be a net payer of interest. As I attempted to earlier convey, whenever one buys a product that any part of its production was involving the cost of interest, the final product price included that interest cost. The purchase of that product had the interest cost paid by the purchaser.
Again using the Pareto concept, of the 20% who receive net interest, it can be further divided 80/20 to imply that 4% receive most (64%?) of the interest. This very fact can explain why/how the system (as it stands) produces a widening between the haves and the so-called ‘have nots’.
Longtime correspondent Harun I. explains that the serfdom imposed by debt and interest is not merely financial servitude–it is political serfdom as well:
As both of us have stated, you can create all of the money you want, however, production of real things cannot be accomplished with a keystroke.
Then there is the issue of liberty. Each Federal Reserve Note is a liability of the Fed and gives the bearer the right but not the obligation to purchase — whatever the Fed deems appropriate. How much one can purchase keeps changing base on a theory-driven experiment that has never worked. Since the Fed is nothing more than an agent of the Central State, the ability to control what the wages of its workers will purchase, is a dangerous power for any government.
If a Federal Reserve Note is a liability of the central bank, then what is the asset? The only possible answer is the nations productivity. So, in essence, an agent of the government, the central bank, most of which are privately owned (ownership is cloaked in secrecy) owns the entire productive output of free and democratic nation-states.
People who speak of liberty and democracy in such a system only delude themselves.
Then there is the solution, default. That only resolves the books, the liability of human needs remain. Bankruptcy does not resolve the residue of social misery and suffering left behind for the masses who became dependent on lofty promises (debt). These promises (debts) were based on theories that have reappeared throughout human history under different guises but have never worked.
More debt will not resolve debt. The individual’s liberty is nonexistent if he does not own his labor. A people should consider carefully the viability (arithmetical consequences) of borrowing, at interest, to consume their own production. The asset of our labor cannot simultaneously be a liability we owe to ourselves at interest.
Thank you, D.L.J. and Harun. What is the alternative to the present system of debt serfdom and rising inequality? Eliminate the Federal Reserve system and revert to the national currency (the dollar) being issued by the U.S. Treasury in sufficient quantity to facilitate the production and distribution of goods and services.
Is this possible? Not in our Financialized, Neofeudal-Neocolonial Rentier Economy; but as Harun noted in another email, Governments cannot reduce their debt or deficits and central banks cannot taper. Equally, they cannot perpetually borrow exponentially more. This one last bubble cannot end (but it must).
What we are discussing is what will replace the current system after it self-destructs.
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