The severe financial crisis and resulting worldwide economic recession we have been forecasting for years are finally unleashing their fury. In fact, the reckless policy of artificial credit expansion that central banks (led by the American Federal Reserve) have permitted and orchestrated over the last fifteen years could not have ended in any other way.
The expansionary cycle that has now come to a close was set in motion when the American economy emerged from its last recession in 1992 and the Federal Reserve embarked on a major artificial expansion of credit and investment, an expansion unbacked by a parallel increase in voluntary household saving. For many years, the money supply in the form of banknotes and deposits (M3) has grown at an average rate of over ten percent per year (which means that every six or seven years the total volume of money circulating in the world has doubled). The media of exchange originating from this severe fiduciary inflation have been placed on the market by the banking system as newly created loans granted at extremely low (and even negative in real terms) interest rates. The above fueled a speculative bubble in the shape of a substantial rise in the prices of capital goods, real-estate assets, and the securities that represent them and are exchanged on the stock market, where indexes soared.
Curiously, as in the "roaring" years prior to the Great Depression of 1929, the shock of monetary growth has not significantly influenced the prices of the subset of goods and services at the final-consumer level of the production structure (approximately only one third of all goods). The decade just past, like the 1920s, has seen a remarkable increase in productivity as a result of the introduction on a massive scale of new technologies and significant entrepreneurial innovations which, were it not for the "money and credit binge," would have given rise to a healthy and sustained reduction in the unit price of the goods and services all citizens consume. Moreover, the full incorporation of the economies of China and India into the globalized market has gradually raised the real productivity of consumer goods and services even further. The absence of a healthy "deflation" in the prices of consumer goods in a period of such considerable growth in productivity as that of recent years provides the main evidence that the monetary shock has seriously disturbed the economic process.
Economic theory teaches us that, unfortunately, artificial credit expansion and the (fiduciary) inflation of media of exchange offer no shortcut to stable and sustained economic development, no way of avoiding the necessary sacrifice and discipline behind all voluntary saving. (In fact, particularly in the United States, voluntary saving has not only failed to increase, but in some years has even fallen to a negative rate.)
Indeed, the artificial expansion of credit and money is never more than a short-term solution, and often not even that. In fact, today there is no doubt about the recessionary consequence that the monetary shock always has in the long run: newly created loans (of money citizens have not first saved) immediately provide entrepreneurs with purchasing power they use in overly ambitious investment projects (in recent years, especially in the building sector and real-estate development). In other words, entrepreneurs act as if citizens had increased their saving, when they have not actually done so.
October 8, 2008
Jess Huerta de Soto, professor of economics at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, is Spain’s leading Austrian economist. As an author, translator, publisher, and teacher, he also ranks among the world’s most active ambassadors for classical liberalism. He is the author of Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles.