I want an end to poverty. I want a social system which operates justly in the general interest without boom and bust. I want to force even the most selfish into the service of others. I want to bring good news to the poor.
We do not live in the Garden of Eden. Scarcity is a fundamental fact. I see a world in which I cannot survive alone. In so far as we enjoy abundance, it is because we share the work of providing for one another.
That sharing of work implies a serious problem: how shall we decide how much of what to produce?
There is a choice: either voluntary ownership, control and risk bearing in the means of production, or collective ownership through the state plus economic planning. We must choose between capitalism or socialism.
Capitalism allocates effort and resources through the price system plus profit and loss accounting. When prices are formed through voluntary exchange of the goods and services people want, a profit shows that value is being created for customers, in their opinion. A loss indicates the collective opinion of society that value is being destroyed.
Only the price system reveals the shifting preferences in the minds of billions of individuals. That is why economic planning by authority always fails. It is why actual socialist societies are highly authoritarian: ever more power is applied in a futile attempt to make planning work.
Understanding our present plight requires insight into the financial system.
Banks lend money into existence. They do not merely lend what people have saved. When a loan is made, bank deposits are created out of nothing. That’s why the UK money supply tripled between 1997 and 2010 from about £700 billion to just over £2.2 trillion.
A society simply cannot triple its money supply in 13 years without profound consequences. Understand that new money went first into the financial system and housing, London and the South East and you have a good explanation for the structural problems in our economy.
We had a chronic oversupply of credit, then sudden undersupply. It is a typical failure of economic planning by authority, a failure of central banking.
The “greedy bankers” argument is inadequate. Thanks to various state-provided guarantees, bankers were gambling with other people’s money, at other people’s risk. Of course they frequently succumbed to temptation. Then governments forced us to bail them out. The injustice of it is palpable.
Look at the cost of energy, the queues on our roads or land use decisions and the story is the same: comprehensive regulation failing to produce the right results. Yes, there is often private investment but it is protected by legal privileges. Even without considering the high level of state spending, it is impossible to sustain the argument that our economy has been too free.
We have preached capitalism but practiced socialism before blaming inevitable failure on the market.
The Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto asked why people in the developing world do not prosper despite being clever, industrious and willing to take risks. Marx believed the problem is that the poor have formal rights but no property.
De Soto demonstrated the opposite. The poorest of the poor in the developing world possess $9.3 trillion worth of land, roughly the size of US GDP and over 70 times the entire world’s foreign aid budget. It turns out the poor in developing countries possess real property but inadequate rights. Co-operation cannot work for the common good without strong property rights and contractual exchange.
We have lived through a deep crisis of the Third Way. How we respond to it is crucial. Is justice and sustained, inclusive prosperity to be delivered through a return to comprehensive economic planning by authority or should we try freedom?
The only system capable of co-ordinating the shared work of providing for one another in this world of scarcity is founded on property rights, voluntary exchange, prices, profit and loss. It is the only system capable of bending even the most selfish to the service of others. Governments must stop deranging it if we are to bring good news to the poor through voluntary co-operation in free markets.
Today, the Telegraph reports, UK house price growth ‘approaching madness’:
The Chancellor’s policies of “monetary activism” and “credit easing” including Funding for Lending and Help to Buy have, on their own terms, succeeded. According to Kaleidic Economics, the Austrian measure of the money supply is now expanding by over 12% year on year:
Nothing has been learned since Hayek wrote Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle. His preface could have been written today:
On its own terms, systematic intervention in the market for credit has succeeded: it has restarted the Domesday machine which delivered us into this mess. Those of us who have studied Mises, Hayek and the other Austrian-School masters will know that our present economic system remains built on sand.
In 1942, Wilhelm Röpke’s International Economic Disintegration was published. An international order of liberal free trade collapsed through nationalism, protectionism and monetary destruction. Many other factors were at work. The various events occupying the forefront of public attention were “only surface symptoms of a deep-set structural change affecting our economic, social, political and cultural system in its entirety”. The social sciences were in crisis and found themselves in a new situation. Monopoly and state intervention had led to the degeneration of competitive capitalism. What had gone before was unhampered trade. What came after was widespread acceptance of state intervention in business life.
Globalisation in the sense of international trade is by no means a new phenomenon: the internationalisation of business regulations is and it has consequences. On 4 December 2012, I reported a problem with the EU regulation of biocidal products which was hammering two UK businesses whose products fight legionella by ionisation. Over a year later, the problem still rattles on with special interests apparently capturing the regulatory apparatus to the detriment of smaller, more effective firms. The financial risks to our stretched hospitals are considerable.
It’s just one example of how the regulatory state fails: how it makes us poorer, discourages innovation and entrenches special interests. It takes power out of the hands of the elected and hands it to technocrats: technocrats who tend to continue down their chosen path irrespective of the futile cries of those of us who represent the victims of bad rules.
The situation is dire enough at European Union level but now here comes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership:
Big firms such as car manufacturers tell me they love it. And why not? One set of rules is in their commercial interests. One set of officials is easier to lobby than several. It’s possible to argue enthusiastically for TTIP and state-directed trade policy, as the EU demonstrates:
But this is not free trade. This is not merely the abolition of tariffs. It is the elevation of the principle of all-encompassing networks of regulation to ever more international and less accountable levels. Woe betide the company which falls foul of a rule agreed by the EU and the US Federal Government: your representatives will have no vote and their correspondence in protest will be just so much chaff in the email storm.
I’m no scholar of Röpke but it seems at least one thing about his analysis was correct: competitive capitalism degenerated into a dangerous interventionism and a crisis of the social sciences which has brought us to our current predicament. Once again, the events which occupy the public consciousness are mere symptoms of much deeper issues: the belief that political power on an ever greater scale is required to shape our lives.
At the Cobden Centre, we believe liberal free trade is much more important to international social progress than political power. We’ve concentrated on the state’s incompetence in monetary matters so far. It seems over the months and years ahead, as more bad ideas work themselves out in public policy, there will be ever more to say on free trade. We hope you will help us.
The 1928 Kellogg–Briand Pact, officially the General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, is a simple read. It’s so simple that its three short articles are easy to miss in the text of the Treaty.
These are the two substantial articles (the third deals with ratification):
The fact of the Second World War proves the Treaty’s failure in practice but I was grateful to the Attorney General’s department for confirming in an answer to a recent Parliamentary question that it remains in force:
Perhaps the brevity, simplicity and directness of the Treaty and its historic failure explain why certain statesmen continue to believe in war as an instrument of policy, with or without the support of the United Nations. The US State Department comments:
Idealistic the Treaty may be but the British Government just confirmed in the season of goodwill that it remains in force and the UK remains a party.
The spirit of it is simple enough: the UK may not engage in acts of aggression under any circumstances. I hope this straightforward lesson in international law will become widely known.
Writing on his website, Detlev Schlichter has announced his exit from the sphere of ideas and writing:
Read the rest of the article here.
In the past few years, Detlev has made a spectacular contribution to Austrian School economics in the UK. When I first found his book Paper Money Collapse: The Folly of Elastic Money and the Coming Monetary Breakdown, I knew I had found the contemporary Austrian analysis I was looking for. I was delighted to endorse it.
That giant intellectual contribution to our economic circumstances has been complemented by Detlev’s unique ability to explain his ideas with a compelling charm from the perspective of experience. I will never forget his astonishing appearance on Radio 4’s Start the Week.
We wish Detlev all the best as he moves on to new enterprises, just as we wonder how to fill the vacuum he will leave. We’re delighted to host his articles and we hope one day to welcome him back to the sphere of ideas.
I chanced this morning on the superb collection of essays from Ludwig von Mises, The Causes of the Economic Crisis and Other Essays Before and After the Great Depression (PDF).
In his Stabilization of the Monetary Unit—From the Viewpoint of Theory written in 1923, he showed considerable foresight:
And in 1946, he commented on using easy money and deficit spending to stimulate the economy after a long period of cheap credit (The Trade Cycle and Credit Expansion):
The Bank of England hopes to avoid all this by manipulating people’s expectations about inflation and GDP growth. I don’t think it can be done – too many commentators can see through it.
Nevertheless, they are going to give it a try. The best that can be said for it in the context of the German experience which Mises predicted and lived through is that at least if coming events are well understood, contemporary errors may at last produce the paradigm shift in economic thought necessary to put us on a more just and moral economic path.
This post originally appeared on www.stevebaker.info.
I campaign constantly against the injustice which is being manufactured by our centrally-planned system of money and bank credit so I am glad that the arguments are going mainstream.
We are in the midst of a great battle between debtors and creditors. Deeply indebted governments are on the side of those in debt. Too many claims on real goods have been created by bank lending so now the central banks are destroying those claims by stealth.
The implications for our society will be profound. I cannot help thinking that the whole enterprise would have already come crashing down if the public could see the tens and hundreds of billions of Pounds – and Dollars and Yen… – as paper in wheelbarrows going to governments’ favoured friends.
Given that the alternative is higher interest rates, sound money and a painful correction, governments and central banks think they are taking the easy way out. We’ll see.
This article was previously published at SteveBaker.info.
The essence of what the Bank has announced is well known: they have begun using forward guidance to anchor both inflation and interest rate expectations as a cover for more active monetary policy.
This will usher in a new age of monetary Kremlinology.
The policy is all about the Committee’s intentions and judgments. It’s hedged about with provisos and escape routes. Journalists were quick to ask who thought what on the Committee, spotting that which thresholds are used and which judgments are made is dependent on the opinions of a few wise men.
If you read Mark Carney’s speech to the U.S. Monetary Policy Forum in New York last year, it is clear what he intends. Mark Carney apparently understands the critique of the Austrian School, but he believes it is “a counsel of despair for current problems” so he proposes to prevent the disruption easy money creates using “broader macroprudential management”.
Today’s announcement includes,
In so far as we did not already, we now live in a world of extensive explicit discretionary power over both money and the financial system which ought to allocate real capital to the most productive uses. To believe this will end well is hubris.
Manipulating the expectations of millions of individuals, households, businesses and financial market participants will create herding on a mass scale. Like a loose load in a ship, that will result in severe instability.
Employment created through an “exceptionally stimulative monetary stance” will come to an end when that stimulation is withdrawn. In chasing its employment threshold, the Bank will paint the economy and society into a corner.
Inflation will take the Bank by surprise. The “slack in the economy”, on which the Bank is relying to avoid price inflation, will turn out to be wasted capital, not idle capital waiting to come back into use. Prices will rise.
I’m reminded of something I heard economist Steve Horwitz say, and I feel sure he will forgive and correct me if my notes are not faithful,
Unfortunately, Mark Carney is nevertheless about to conduct a grand experiment which will prove that this is so.
This article was published yesterday at stevebaker.info.
Today sees the return of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill to Parliament. It does not do enough.
In the book Banking 2020: A vision for the future, my essay summarises the institutional problems with our monetary and banking orthodoxy:
The essay provides some objectives for monetary reform and sets out proposals from Dowd et al and Huerta de Soto.
I was pleased that the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards highlighted problems with incentives and accounting – the conversation is going in the right direction. At some point, when it becomes apparent that Mervyn King was right and we do have the worst possible banking system, I hope decision makers will realise that banks and the product in which they deal, money, are inseparable and that meaningful banking reform demands monetary reform.
You can download the book here.
City A.M. reports today Dovish Carney stuns markets:
That investors are shocked by the news that Mark Carney plans a further extended period of easy money is more surprising than the news itself. But it turns out markets are good at responding to superficial data over the clearly stated intent of big players in the market, like central bank officials.
Consider the evidence of Lord George, former Bank of England Governor, to the Treasury Select Committee in 2007, in which he confesses his role in seeding economic disruption in an attempt to avoid recession:
And a few weeks ago, the Bank’s Andy Haldane confessed that they “have intentionally blown the biggest government bond bubble in history” (I abridge a little):
So, by officials’ own admission, the Bank under Eddie George created levels of debt-fuelled consumption which they knew could not last in the hope of avoiding recession and, following that bubble bursting, they have now deliberately inflated the biggest bond market bubble in history. When I see markets herding in response to the pronouncements of these big players, I think “What could possibly go wrong?”
As I set out in my speech on the Budget (video), Mark Carney has clearly explained his intention to use the Bank of England to manipulate economic expectations to manufacture recovery. This will not work.
It is certainly true that the central banks can alter economic expectations but the idea that they can do so helpfully is fanciful. It is founded on the same errors as socialism and like socialism, it cannot work because the information necessary is not available and because it relies on aggregating away much that makes us human.
We’ve had two confessions from central bank officials. I feel I can predict confidently that Mark Carney will one day confess, more or less, “We thought we could manage the economy by steering the expectations of tens of millions of people using monetary policy to blow various bubbles while making pronouncements about policy. We were wrong.”
One of the great tragedies of our circumstances is that so many people will label this central planning “capitalism”. Eventually, the state will have to get out of money and banking. Mark Carney’s coming failure should accelerate the day.