Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hyperinflation: The "Bush Curve," Redux

Last summer, before the credit crisis hit full bore, I suggested that there were conspicuous parallels in the in the shape of many metrical assessments of the Bush years

Well, we have another entry, this time on the size of the monetary base in the U.S.:

Despite the sense of deflation that we currently feel, this implies that, unless the Fed can manage to turn fiscal policy on a dime, the hyperinflationary iceman cometh. Even if the Fed perfectly times the policy turnaround, it's unclear from a technical perspective how exactly it can pull all these dollars back out of circulation. (For more detailed analysis, see here.)

If you believe this, here's what it implies at a personal level: get your hands on real assets, e.g. property and commodities (canned goods and bullets?), ideally by leveraging up on unindexed dollar-denominated debt (which will soon be meaningless). Securing large amounts of debt is of course very hard to do right now, since banks are refusing to lend -- which is exactly what the Fed's monetary policy is trying to address -- but you can do this in modest ways by buying a car on credit, for example. But the key point is this: the real, tangible assets you possess (goods and skills) are likely to be the only thing you've got in a few years. So get as many of these as you can.

Thinking about this less personally, one has to figure that the coming orgy of inflation will be socially catastrophic. We know from the historical record what hyperinflation does to a country. Anyone on an fixed income is hosed (hello, AARP!). Anyone holding unindexed dollar denomination paper is hosed (hello, Beijing!). Government spending nolens volens must be radically curtailed (hello, Obama!). As the middle class evaporates, barter and scavenging rapidly emerge as crucial forms of economic exchange. 

Finally, the political implications of all this. Since massive cuts to U.S. government programs will inevitably include a massive reduction in defense spending, we are opening a vista with implications as radical for international relations as the similar hyperinflation-stoked reduction in the Russian military ambition after 1991. Except unlike in the 1990s, there's no clear power that will rush in to occupy the power vacuum left by a withdrawing Soviet military. As a thought-experiment, it's worth thinking about what a de facto withdrawal of the U.S. security umbrella would mean in places like Northeast Asia or Europe -- not to mention the Middle East. Security regionalization looks likely to be a byword for the 2010s.

1 comment:

Brian H said...

You might like to challenge your thinking on money supply and inflation by reading John Tamny, The Fallacious Notion of Money Supply. He is a very interesting and persuasive economic iconoclast. Based on the performance of standard economics and economists over the last few (many!) decades, I think he is likely right.