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FAQ: Is deflation still a threat? Can't the Fed stop deflation just by expanding credit?

by Editorial Staff
Updated: March 28, 2015

Answer: The Primary Precondition of Deflation

Deflation requires a precondition: a major societal buildup in the extension of credit. Bank credit and Elliott wave expert Hamilton Bolton, in a 1957 letter, summarized his observations this way: "In reading a history of major depressions in the U.S. from 1830 on, I was impressed with the following: (a) All were set off by a deflation of excess credit. This was the one factor in common."

"The Fed Will Stop Deflation"

I am tired of hearing people insist that the Fed can expand credit all it wants. Sometimes an analogy clarifies a subject, so let's try one.

It may sound crazy, but suppose the government were to decide that the health of the nation depends upon producing Jaguar automobiles and providing them to as many people as possible. To facilitate that goal, it begins operating Jaguar plants all over the country, subsidizing production with tax money. To everyone's delight, it offers these luxury cars for sale at 50 percent off the old price. People flock to the showrooms and buy. Later, sales slow down, so the government cuts the price in half again. More people rush in and buy. Sales again slow, so it lowers the price to $900 each. People return to the stores to buy two or three, or half a dozen.

Why not? Look how cheap they are! Buyers give Jaguars to their kids and park an extra one on the lawn. Finally, the country is awash in Jaguars. Alas, sales slow again, and the government panics. It must move more Jaguars, or, according to its theory -- ironically now made fact -- the economy will recede. People are working three days a week just to pay their taxes so the government can keep producing more Jaguars. If Jaguars stop moving, the economy will stop. So the government begins giving Jaguars away. A few more cars move out of the showrooms, but then it ends. Nobody wants any more Jaguars. They don't care if they're free. They can't find a use for them. Production of Jaguars ceases. It takes years to work through the overhanging supply of Jaguars. Tax collections collapse, the factories close, and unemployment soars. The economy is wrecked. People can't afford to buy gasoline, so many of the Jaguars rust away to worthlessness. The number of Jaguars -- at best -- returns to the level it was before the program began.

The same thing can happen with credit.

It may sound crazy, but suppose the government were to decide that the health of the nation depends upon producing credit and providing it to as many people as possible. To facilitate that goal, it begins operating credit-production plants all over the country, called Federal Reserve Banks. To everyone's delight, these banks offer the credit for sale at below market rates. People flock to the banks and buy. Later, sales slow down, so the banks cut the price again. More people rush in and buy. Sales again slow, so they lower the price to one percent. People return to the banks to buy even more credit.

Why not? Look how cheap it is! Borrowers use credit to buy houses, boats and an extra Jaguar to park out on the lawn. Finally, the country is awash in credit. Alas, sales slow again, and the banks panic. They must move more credit, or, according to its theory -- ironically now made fact -- the economy will recede. People are working three days a week just to pay the interest on their debt to the banks so the banks can keep offering more credit. If credit stops moving, the economy will stop. So the banks begin giving credit away, at zero percent interest. A few more loans move through the tellers' windows, but then it ends. Nobody wants any more credit. They don't care if it's free. They can't find a use for it. Production of credit ceases. It takes years to work through the overhanging supply of credit. Interest payments collapse, banks close, and unemployment soars. The economy is wrecked. People can't afford to pay interest on their debts, so many bonds deteriorate to worthlessness. The value of credit -- at best -- returns to the level it was before the program began.

Jaguars, anyone?

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