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Economics

Philipp Bagus on the business cycle

ECONOMISTS IN THE TRADITION OF THE AUSTRIAN SCHOOL have shown that one type of maturity mismatching can cause maladjustments and business cycles. When banks expand credit, by granting loans and creating demand deposits, they generate immediately withdrawable liabilities to finance longer-term loans. The newly created demand deposits do not represent a reduction of consumption, i.e., that characterized by real savings. As a consequence, interest rates are artificially reduced under the level they would have been in a free market reflecting real savings and time preference rates. Thus, entrepreneurs are prone to engage in more and longer projects than could be financed with the available supply of real savings. Before all projects that are financed by the credit expansion are finished, a bust occurs. An absence of real savings to sustain the factors of production in the production processes and to produce complementary and necessary capital goods becomes evident. As a result, malinvestments are liquidated and the structure of production is brought in line with consumer preferences again. This is the Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT) in a nutshell.

In his paper, Philipp goes on to explain that other types of maturity mismatching can cause cycles:

At the core of the traditional Austrian business cycle there is maturity mismatching in the term structure of the assets and liabilities of the banking system. In the process that underlies the business cycle, banks use short-term liabilities with zero “maturity” (i.e., demand deposits) to finance long-term projects via longer-term loans. However, the current economic turmoil is marked not only by massive maturity mismatching in the form of fractional reserve banking, but also by maturity mismatching on the part of investment banks via structured investment vehicles (SIVs), that use short-term repurchase agreements or short-term financial papers to finance longer-term investments. Naturally, the following question comes to mind: If one kind of maturity mismatching, i.e., the use of demand deposits to finance loans, can cause the business cycle, would not other kinds of maturity mismatching have similar effects, i.e., the use of funds obtained from the issue of short-term commercial paper to finance longer-term loans.

The full paper is recommended for the technical reader. Available here.

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