Where Deflation Comes From

Submitted by Raúl Ilargi Meijer  –  The Automatic Earth


Dorothea Lange We’ll be in California yet. We’re not going back to Arkansas 1938

Financial bubbles blown on the back of massive amounts of debt, of necessity lead to debt deflation (it’s just entropy, really). Fighting this is futile, and grossly costly to boot. The only sensible thing to do is to guide the process as best you can and try to minimize the damage, especially at the bottom rungs of society, because that’s where the deflation first takes hold, and where it spreads out from.

Attempting to boost inflation, or boost demand, before letting the debt deflation run its course through restructuring and defaults (perhaps even a -partial- jubilee) leads only to -further- distortion, and -further- impoverishes society’s poorer (at some point to a large extent the former middle classes). Whose lower spending, as nary a soul seems to comprehend, is the origin of the deflation to begin with.

All the attempts by central bankers to boost inflation that we’ve seen so far squarely ignore this, and operate on the false assumption that if only prices for financial assets and real estate can be raised even higher -artificially-, deflation can be warded off.

Thing is, deflation starts not at the top, it starts at the bottom. It’s not the banks or the bankers or the well-off who are maxed out and stop spending, but the people in the street.

They are responsible for most of the spending in an economy, and therefore for the velocity with which money moves in a society. And if the velocity of money falls below a critical point, no increase in the other side of the inflation/deflation equation -the money/credit supply- can make up for the difference. There is a point where all of the King’s horses and all of the King’s central bankers can’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

The people in the street are not just maxed out in the sense that they have no money, they have less than no money, since they’re deep in debt. An increasing part of whatever they do still have, and what they make in their ever lower paying jobs, goes toward debt payments. Yeah, that’s the giant sucking sound.

QE and other ‘plans’ like it don’t address this even in the slightest, and are necessarily failures before they even start.

Central bank stimulus measures are all exclusively targeted at the upper rungs, and therefore miss their aim entirely. Or perhaps we should say ‘alleged’ aim, since it takes quite a leap of faith to presume that all the world’s central bankers fail to understand their own field so thoroughly that all they can all come up with is failures.

However, given that they all studied the same faulty economics textbooks, we can’t rule out this possibility. It is certainly strongly suggested -once again- by Steve Keen in Our Dysfunctional Monetary System.

Rather than effective remedies, we’ve had inane policies like QE, which purport to solve the crisis by inflating asset prices when inflated asset prices were one of the symptoms of the bubble that caused the crisis. We’ve seen Central Banks pump up private bank reserves in the belief that this will encourage more bank lending when (a) there’s too much bank debt already and (b) banks physically can’t lend out reserves.

What may also play a role is that the upper rungs tend to be blind to anything outside of their own circles, that because they 1) have their hands on a nation’s wallets and 2) they see themselves as the most important segment of any given society, they elect to try and solve the problem inside their own circles -and truly believe this is feasible-.

This can of course not possibly work. Because they’re hugely outnumbered. They don’t have nearly enough influence on money flows in their societies. If they can’t sell the bottom, let’s take a number, 80%, of society sufficient produce or gasoline or homes or trinkets, the entire society seizes up the way an engine does that runs out of oil.

The top makes its fortune for a while getting the bottom ever deeper into debt, only to inevitably find that this kills off the entire economy. Then they do some more of the same, and find ever more of their own kind becoming part of the bottom.

The problem for the rich is simple: there’s not enough of them. Well, that and they don’t understand how societies function. Let alone economies. Scraps off the table won’t do the trick. Next stop pitchforks.

Any deflationary period would have been hard no matter what. Still, none would have had to lead to what we’re facing now.

But look out there at what’s happening in politics, at who’s popular in various places. It’s all geared towards more inequality, not less, like some tooth and claw Darwin version were the world’s economics teacher, wherever you look it’s all the well-off making ever surer they will remain well-off or better.

And even if you look for instance at Bernie Sanders in the US, he wants more for the bottom of society, but that seems more for sentimental or ideological reasons than a sign he actually understands why it would raise the odds of the States being a going concern going forward.

The actual Darwin could have taught us all a lesson or two three about the role of balances in ecosystems, and in human societies. But then he actually studied them. Economists, politicians and central bankers have not.