Thomas Jefferson is credited with the following sage advice, “The central bank is an institution of the most deadly hostility existing against the Principles and form of our Constitution. I am an Enemy to all banks discounting bills or notes for anything but Coin. If the American People allow private banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the People of all their Property until their Children will wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered.” And so it seems sometimes the answer is right in front of us all along and we just fail to see it.
We hear a lot of talk these days about inflation. For decades the western world has been misled about a necessity for inflation to grow an economy. This is entirely false. Inflation has no relevance to economic growth; inflation is a depressive force on an economy and it can only come by way of increased money supply.
The apex of the discussion is that price increase does not equate to inflation. Inflation is but one of two paths for rising prices. More specifically, prices can rise by way of supply/demand fundamentals of an asset itself and by way of supply/demand fundamentals of the currency form being used to transact the underlying asset. The prior will raise prices in all currency forms while the latter, being inflation, will raise prices only in that relevant currency.
For inflation to occur demand for a given currency must decline relative to its supply. This can happen if consumers lose faith in a currency and thus demand less of it, or by governments increasing supply without proportional increases in demand. The latter is exactly what we’ve seen over the past 100 years but to such a grotesque degree over the past 8 years that it may have actually shattered the foundation of the economy of which it was driving. This is precisely the chain reaction that Thomas Jefferson had warned us would result from a private central banking system.
Once the economy is broken an epidemic of resource misallocation leads to an immense narrowing of income distribution, ultimately paralyzing the velocity of money; the result being an income-less society save for an elite slice. This leads to mass public and consumer debt creation in an effort to stave off the collapsing natural demand that ultimately ends in deflation when the debt efforts, after a short reprise, actually hasten the collapsing demand by hammering the final nail in the budgetary coffin. At such a point deflation is essentially infinite as people are willing to trade anything for a dollar to purchase food, or inflation is infinite as people will simply circumvent dollars and barter; an interesting paradox that in practice will be a moot point given the vast majority will have nothing to trade for food or dollars because ownership is no longer a reality.
It seems then, that Jefferson’s prediction is theoretically sound, but let’s see if we can find any empirical evidence to either support or refute his cautionary message. We know that dollar inflation has been approximately 2400% since 1913, 2000% of that devaluation coming subsequent to 1971 when Nixon moved to a pure fiat currency. The reason we moved to a fiat currency is to remove the restriction on money supply that is inherent to a convertible currency. We can see in the next chart that inflation is directly linked to money supply, which has seen around 1700% increase since 1971.
This ‘easy’ money accelerated significantly around the mid 1990’s and this has led to a misallocation of resources. To see this, let’s look at the relationship between corporate fixed capital expenditures and dividends. The idea being that fixed capital expenditures are economically productive meaning they lead to economic expansion, whereas dividends divert cash off corporate balance sheets and thus detract from capital expenditures, having a contractionary force on the economy.
The above chart clearly depicts a significant change in the economy’s allocation of corporate resources at the same time money printing accelerated. Fixed capital investment was a much larger share of GDP than dividends up until the mid 1990’s when that began to reverse. Again moving to a market environment that promotes a contracting rather than expansionary economic process. We should be able to see this effect actually taking place via declining capacity utilization. As a result of that we should then see declining labour participation rate and declining incomes from slack in the labour market. Looking at the data this is exactly what we find.
Notice that all three indicators begin to trend downward around 1998, shortly after (and one could suggest as a direct result of) the resource misallocation that began a few years earlier in the mid 1990’s. The next link in this chain should be an expansion of consumer loans in an attempt to offset the resulting demand deterioration from the weakening job market conditions.
We find abundant empirical evidence in the above charts showing an acceleration of consumer debt during the mid 1990’s and again around 2009. And this is perfectly in line with our theory and so we seem to be on the right track. Now the obvious result of massive increases in consumer debt is that ownership is being replaced by indebtedness. That is, to a great extent now we rent or borrower our assets as opposed to owning them.
In the above chart we see that home ownership is now back to the level it was before we ended Bretton Woods in 1971. And it’s not just housing, today about 75% of new car sales are being financed and with longer maturities than ever before. In short, ownership of the 2 major assets typical to the traditional American family has been on a sharp decline for the past 10 years with no signs of slowing.
The American dream is built on ownership because it represents substantive progress by way of building a family’s net worth. A net worth that has declined by 40% since 2007 for all but the very top of the economic food chain. But it’s not only the American dream that is in retreat. The reality is that over the past 8 years increases in public debt have outgrown increases in GDP. The nation is borrowing more than it’s producing and spending more than it’s collecting every quarter. A trend that is to continue and to worsen each and every new year according to the CBO’s own projections.
Where does this leave America and really the rest of the western world whose data will mirror the US?
Bankrupt and on borrowed time.
By Thad Beversdorf, Chief Economist, Bullion Capital