Central banking, Economics, Eurasia, History, Policy, Politics, Social development

Deflationary gap and the West’s war addiction

In June of 2014, a group of American researchers published an article in the American Journal of Public Health, pointing out that, “Since the end of World War II, there have been 248 armed conflicts in 153 locations around the world. The United States launched 201 overseas military operations between the end of World War II and 2001, and since then, others, including Afghanistan and Iraq.” To be sure, each of these wars was duly explained and justified to the American public and for all those Americans who believe that their government would never deceive them, each war was defensible and fought for a good reason. Nonetheless, the fact that one country has initiated more than 80% of all wars in the last seventy years does require an explanation. I posted the text below on my blog The Jubilee in 2011:

Deflationary gap

Although I studied economics at the university, I don’t recall coming across the subject of deflationary gap. The textbooks I still have don’t mention it, and a search on the internet yielded close to nothing on the subject. Wikipedia doesn’t even have an entry for deflationary gap. Answers.com provides a single vague sentence about it.

That’s strange, for we’re talking about a systemic flaw of the capitalist economic system that predictably corrodes the democratic framework of the society and leads to the rise of fascism and military conflagration. In his book “Tragedy and Hope,” (by far the most fascinating history book I’ve ever read) Carrol Quigley devotes much space to deflationary gap as he meticulously traces the events leading to last century’s two world wars. He considers the deflationary gap as “the key to twentieth century economic crisis and one of the three central cores of the whole tragedy of the twentieth century”.

The subject of analysis is a closed economic system, in which the sum total of goods and services appearing in the market equals the income of the system and the aggregate cost of producing the goods and services. The sums expended by the businesses on wages, rents, salaries, raw materials, interest, lawyers’ fees, and so on, represent income to those who receive them. The profits are entrepreneur’s income and his incentive to produce the wealth in question. The goods are offered for sale at a price which is equal to the sum of all costs and profits. On the whole, aggregate costs, aggregate incomes and aggregate prices are the same, since they represent the opposite sides of the same expenditures.

However, the purchasing power available in the system is reduced by the amount of savings. If there are any savings, the available purchasing power will be less than the aggregate asking prices by the amount of the savings, and all the goods and services produced cannot be sold as long as savings are held back. In order for all the goods to be sold, savings must reappear in the market as purchasing power.

Normally, this is done through investment. But whenever investment is less than savings, purchasing power will fall short of the amount needed to buy the goods being offered. This shortfall of purchasing power in the system, the excess of savings over investment, is the deflationary gap.

Methods of bridging the deflationary gap

The deflationary gap can be closed either by lowering the supply of goods or by raising the supply of purchasing power, or by a combination of both methods. The first solution will stabilize the economic system on a low level of economic activity. The second will stabilize it on a high level of economic activity. Left to itself, a modern economic system would adopt the former alternative, resulting in a deflationary spiral: the deflationary gap would lead to falling prices, declining economic activity, rising unemployment, and a fall of national income. In turn, this would cause a decline in the volume of savings, until savings reached the level of investment, at which point the economy becomes stabilized at a low level of activity.

This process was not allowed to unfold in any industrialized country during the great depression of 1929-1934 because the disparity in the distribution of income between the rich and the poor was so great that it would cause a considerable portion of the population to be driven to absolute poverty before the savings of the richer segment of the population could decline to the level of investment. Moreover, as the depression deepened, the level of investment declined even more rapidly than the level of savings. To avert social uprisings, governments of all industrial nations attempted to generate a recovery through two kinds of measures: (a) those which destroy goods and (b) those which produce goods which do not enter the market.

Averting depression through destruction of goods

The destruction of goods will close the deflationary gap by reducing the supply of unsold goods. While this is not generally recognized, this method is one of the chief ways in which the gap is closed in a normal business cycle. In such a cycle, goods are destroyed by the simple expedient of underutilizing the system’s production capacities. The failure to use the economic system at the 1929 level of output during the years 1930-1934 represented a loss of goods worth $100,000,000,000 in the United States, Britain, and Germany alone. This loss was equivalent to the destruction of such goods.

Destruction of goods by failure to gather the harvest because the selling price is too low is a common phenomenon under modern conditions, especially in respect to fruit and vegetable crops. While the outright destruction of goods already produced is not common, it has occurred in the depression years 1930-1934: stores of coffee, sugar, and bananas were destroyed, corn was ploughed under, and young livestock was slaughtered to reduce the supply on the market. The destruction of goods in warfare is another example of this method of overcoming deflationary conditions in the economic system.

Producing goods that don’t enter the market

The second method of bridging the deflationary gap, by producing goods which do not enter the market, supplies purchasing power in the market (the costs of production of such goods enter the market as purchasing power), while the goods themselves do not drain funds from the system, as they are not offered for sale. New investment would be the natural means to accomplish this, but modern economic systems in depression do not function this way. Rather, private investment tends to decline considerably. Alternatively, purchasing power must be supplied to the system through government spending. Unfortunately, any program of public spending quickly leads to the problem of public debt and inflation, which tends to compound the problems rather than solving them.

War: the irresistible solution

Approaches to public spending as a method of financing an economic recovery can vary depending on its objectives. Spending for destruction of goods or for restriction of output, as under the early New Deal agricultural program is hard to implement in a democratic country, because it obviously results in a decline in national income and living standards. Spending for nonproductive monuments or prestige projects like space programs is somewhat easier to justify but is not a long-term solution. The best approach, obviously is investing in productive capital goods, since it leads to an increase in national wealth and standards of living and constitutes a long-run solution.

Unfortunately, this approach runs into ideological head-winds in modern economies as it constitutes a permanent departure from the system of private capitalism. As such, it is easily attacked in a country with a capitalistic ideology and a private banking system. Instead, developed nations tend to favor the most dangerous method of bridging the deflationary gap: spending on armaments and national defense.

The appeal of this method is always rooted in political and ideological grounds. Military spending tends to help heavy industry directly and immediately. Heavy industry, which absorbs manpower most readily (thus reducing unemployment), suffers earliest and most drastically in a depression. This tends to make it very influential in most countries. Defense-related spending is also easily justified to the public on grounds of national security.

But increasing defense spending enhances the political clout of the military-industrial complex and tends to increase a nation’s reliance on the military in the conduct of its foreign policy and an escalation of conflict which leads to further increases in military spending. The vicious cycle ultimately results in the emergence of fascism: the adoption by the vested interests in a society of an authoritarian form of government in order to maintain their vested interests and prevent the reform of the society.

In the last century in Europe, the vested interests usually sought to prevent the reform of the economic system (a reform whose need was made evident by the long-drawn depression) by adopting an economic program whose chief element was the effort to fill the deflationary gap by rearmament. Quigley’s analysis, based on the historical developments in the aftermath of the economic depression of the early 1930’s closely parallels today’s events.

The economic crises which germinated from the same systemic feature present in the modern economic system, followed a similar pattern in economic and political developments that we are witnessing today.

MilitarySpending

To avert a depression, US Government ramps up military spending

 

In the last century, we have seen these developments lead to two world wars, the second of which included the use of nuclear weapons. Today, as we seem to be heading in the same direction, the question is: do we even know how to arrest this escalation of armed conflicts? If the most trigger-happy actor in this drama is a nobel peace-prize laureate (sorry, I can’t bring myself to capitalize “nobel peace prize”), I fear we have little grounds for optimism.

Nevertheless, if there should be any hope for humanity to avert further conflagration, a better informed, truthful debate just might lead the way to the needed economic and political reforms.

Advertisements
Standard
Policy, Politics, Psychology, Real life, Social development, Truth

Freedom of speech should be sacred

“There is no god higher than truth.” – Mohandas Gandhi

Update: just hours after I posted this article, Amazon.com sadly de-listed my book, “The Killing of William Browder.” (I assure you, there was no trace of hate speech in my book)

Across the Western world, government bureaucracies and large media corporations like Amazon, Google, Twitter and Facebook have been increasingly proactive in suppressing “hate speech,” always with bestest of intentions. However, these efforts are unnecessary and will likely prove counterproductive.

Warning about the danger of disastrous rise of misplaced power” in our societies, Dwight Eisenhower said in his January 1961 farewell address that, Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” can curb the power of the state, “so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Freedom of expression is the essential means of keeping the citizenry alert and knowledgeable. As such it should not be suppressed under any pretext, but encouraged and cultivated. Continue reading

Standard
Psychology, Real life, Social development, Something completely different, Truth

Regarding the virtue of “hard work”

In the Western world, the idea of “working hard” is usually treated as a virtue in its own right. Any time I thought to question this “virtue” I’d invariably find myself on the defensive, as though my questioning of hard work was an affirmation of its opposite, laziness.

Whatever worthy objectives you want to achieve in life, the chances are, you have to work hard to attain them. Many objectives justify such hard work, like wanting to set the world record in some athletic discipline or to become a virtuoso musician or dancer. The same could be said about wanting to write a book, circumnavigate the globe, or any number of such feats. But people inclined to such endeavors do not need to be taught the value of hard work, so its cultural affirmation as a virtue would be superfluous and silly. Continue reading

Standard
Economics, Eurasia, Media, Policy, Politics, Social development, Truth

Vladimir Putin’s 17 years in power: the scorecard

Mr. Putin can’t seem to get a break in the western media. I watched his recent interview with CBS’s Megyn Kelly with her tiresome, boring questions like, “did Russia interfere in our election,” “did your ambassador meet with Trump’s election officials,”  “isn’t it true that you’re a corrupt murderous thug,” etc. Only in response to Kelly’s last question did Mr. Putin get to name a handful of his achievements in Russia. But someone ought to better prepare his talking points on this score. The below excerpt from my upcoming book summarizes how Russia has changed during the 17 years since Mr. Putin has been at helm.

Continue reading

Standard
Central banking, Economics, Inflation, Monetary reform, Social development, Uncategorized

Inflation: lessons from the last empire’s collapse

So far, the dreams of 1,000-year empires and stable world domination have eluded the ruling elites throughout history and across the globe. Empires arise, sustain themselves for a century or two and then rapidly decay and collapse. The collapse may appear relatively fast and obvious in hindsight, but in reality it spans decades, may appear as a series of temporary crises and only become obvious very late into the slow-motion train wreck. Continue reading

Standard
Policy, Politics, Social development

Surveillance state: it ain’t about your privacy

We should be very concerned about the surveillance state in the west – but our privacy is not the main reason why.

Wikileaks’ latest dump of CIA documents confirmed what many of us suspected all along, especially after the Edward Snowden revelations: that the NSA (and GCHQ…) use our computers, mobile devices, and even internet-connected TV sets to spy on us. Some people feel they have nothing to hide, so they aren’t bothered about it. Others feel outraged on the grounds that it violates our civil liberties and our right to privacy. But there’s a much more important reason to be concerned about mass surveillance, and it isn’t about the privacy of the vast majority of us. Continue reading

Standard
Commodity price, Commodity risk, Economics, Energy crisis, Hedging, Inflation, Oil market, Policy, Social development

Is an epic energy crunch in the making?

Last year I published a report with the (justifiably) bombastic title, “$500 per barrel: could oil price rise tenfold?” One of my central claims was that producing oil requires investment of real capital including materials, equipment and highly skilled labor, and that, “as more and more resources are required to generate the same amount of liquid fuels, energy production is becoming ever more expensive to society in real terms.” Thus, as it becomes more expensive in real terms (as the deteriorating EROEI figures indicate), the fact that energy has recently become cheaper in nominal (dollar) terms can only be a temporary abberation. EROEI stands for energy return on energy invested; in the early 1900s, we obtained 100 barrels euqivalent of oil per barrel invested (EROEI of 100 to 1); today we are at about 15 to 1 globally and at 11 to 1 in the USA. Continue reading

Standard