Stumped by the Bust

In the slump of a cycle, businesses that were thriving begin to experience difficulties or go under. They do so not because of firm-specific entrepreneurial errors but rather in tandem with whole sectors of the economy. People who were wealthy yesterday have become poor today. Factories that were busy yesterday are shut down today, and workers are out of jobs.

 

closedWhat has caused the bust? The modern-day economic orthodoxy continues to be unable to provide a tenable and sound explanation for the business cycle phenomenon. Such an explanation does exist though.

Photo credit: Carl de Souza / AFP / Getty images

 

Businessmen themselves are confused as to why. They cannot make sense of why certain business practices that were profitable yesterday are losing money today. Bad business conditions emerge when least expected — just when all businesses are holding the view that a new age of steady and rapid progress has emerged.

In his writings, Ludwig von Mises argued against the prevailing explanation of the business cycle consisting of over-production and under-consumption theories, and critically addressed various theories that depended on vague notions of mass psychology and irregular shocks.

In the psychological explanation, an increase in people’s confidence regarding future business conditions gives rise to an economic boom. Conversely, a sudden fall in confidence sets in motion business stagnation.

 

Observing a Business Cycle vs. Explaining a Business Cycle

Now, there can be no doubt that during a recession people are less confident about the future than during good times. But to observe this is not to explain it.

Likewise, theories that view various shocks and disruptions as the central cause behind boom-bust cycles do not advance our knowledge regarding the boom-bust cycle phenomenon.

Neither explains how the boom and bust come about, or why they are of a recurrent nature. To arrive at a correct explanation, Mises held, we need to trace the change in business conditions back to previously established and identified phenomena, and that is precisely what these theories do not do.

Hence Mises concluded that all these theories do not provide an explanation but rather describe the phenomenon in a different way.

Mises also held that various statistical and mathematical methods are another way of describing, but not explaining events. Statistical methods make it possible to generate charts of data fluctuations but they do not improve on our knowledge of what causes the fluctuations.

 

von-misesA thumbs-up from Ludwig von Mises. Mises dissects the fallacies of non-monetary business cycle theories in Human Action. He inter alia points out that opponents of the monetary theory of the trade cycle have been unable to forward tenable arguments refuting it. Mises concludes that the propagation of non-monetary business cycle theories is primarily driven by political rather than scientific considerations. The goal is to arrive at the predetermined conclusion that the market economy needs to be “rescued” by government intervention and central planning.

Photo via mises.org

 

“Commodity Credit” or “Circulation Credit”?

Mises made a distinction between credit that is backed by savings, and credit that does not have any backing. The first type of credit he labeled commodity credit the second he labeled circulation credit. It is circulation credit that plays the key role in setting the boom-bust cycle process.

Consider a producer of consumer goods who consumes part of his produce while saving the rest. In the market economy, our producer could exchange the saved goods for money. The money that he receives can be seen as a receipt as it were for the goods produced and saved.

The receipt is his claim on the goods. He can then make a decision to lend the money to another producer through the mediation of a bank. By lending the money of the original saver, the lender transfers his claims on real savings to the borrower.

The borrower can now use the money — i.e., the claims — and secure consumer goods that will support him while he is engaged in the production of other goods (say tools and machinery).

The credit in this case is fully backed by savings and permits the expansion of tools and machinery. With better infrastructure, it is now possible to produce not only more goods but goods of a better quality. The expansion of real wealth is now possible. Once a lender lends his money, he relinquishes his claims on real goods for the duration of the loan.

In an unhampered market economy, borrowers are users of savings who make sure that savings are employed in the most efficient way: generating profits. This means that real savings are employed in accordance with consumers’ most important priorities.

We can thus see here that as long as banks facilitate commodity credit, they should be seen as the agents of wealth generation. In contrast, whenever banks embark on the lending of circulation credit they in fact become the agents of real wealth destruction.

As opposed to commodity credit, circulation credit is not supported by any real saving. This type of credit is just an empty claim created by banks. In the case of commodity credit, the borrower secures goods that were produced and saved for him.

This is, however, not the case with respect to the circulation credit. No goods were produced and saved here. Once the borrower uses the unbacked claims, it is at the expense of the holders of fully backed claims. In this way, circulation credit undermines true wealth generators.

Now, as a result of an increase in the supply of circulation credit money market interest rates fall below the natural rate, that is, the rate that would be established by supply and demand if real goods were loaned directly in barter without the use of money (in his later writings, Mises referred to the natural rate as the rate that would be established in a free market).

 

1-tms-2-vs-covered-moneyThis chart compares the true broad money supply TMS-2 (black line) to the sum of currency (circulating currency + vault cash) and bank reserves. Currency (bank notes and coins) represent “standard money” in a fiat money system. Bank reserves are deposited with the Fed and are not considered part of the money supply; in a fractionally reserved banking system they serve as the basis for the extension of circulation credit by commercial banks. However, they can be exchanged for currency (they represent the cash assets of banks and when depositors withdraw deposit money in the form of cash, banks can transform reserves into cash to effect payment) – in other words, together with vault cash, they serve as the “standard money backing” of a portion of the deposit liabilities of banks. Putting it differently, reserves back a fraction of outstanding money substitutes and these are therefore considered covered money substitutes. Thus, everything between the red and black lines represents uncovered money substitutes or fiduciary media. These fiduciary media roughly equal the amount of circulation credit in the economy – click to enlarge.

 

How Circulation Credit Triggers Business Cycles

As a result of the artificial lowering of interest rates, businesses undertake various new capital projects to expand and lengthen the production structure. Prior to the lowering of interest rates, these capital projects didn’t appear to be profitable. Now, however, as money market rates are kept below the natural rate, economic activity zooms ahead and an economic boom emerges.

The forced lowering of interest rates bring into being production processes that would not be undertaken otherwise. A production structure is now created that produces goods and services that consumers in fact cannot afford.

Instead of using the limited pool of the means of sustenance to make tools and machinery that will generate consumer goods on the highest individual priority list, the means of sustenance are wasted on capital goods that are geared towards the production of low-priority consumer goods.

At some point, the producers of such goods will discover that they cannot make a profit or even complete their plans. What we have here is not over-investment but misdirected investment or malinvestment.

 

2-distorted-production-structureAn inter-temporally distorted production structure is established following an expansion of circulation credit (image adapted from Roger Garrison’s “Time and Money: The Macroeconomics of Capital Structure”). Production, consumption and saving/investment are no longer in balance, as investment decisions fail to properly reflect consumer time preferences. Such a capital structure is not sustainable and eventually must fall prey to a bust – click to enlarge.

 

The expansion of the production structure takes time and the limited subsistence fund may not be sufficient to support the expansion of the capital structure. If the new flow of the production of consumer goods does not emerge quickly enough to replace currently consumed consumer goods, the subsistence fund comes under pressure.

At some point in time, banks discover that marginal businesses are starting to under-perform. This causes them to slow-down the expansion of circulation credit, which in turn puts an upward pressure on interest rates. As a result this starts to undermine various other business activities (non-marginal), and can often be the precipitating event that leads to an economic bust.

Mises wrote that the bust phase of the business cycle process could be precipitated by other events. The expansion in the money supply enriches the early receivers of money. Those individuals who have now become wealthier as a result of receiving the money may alter their pattern of consumption.

This may force businesses to adjust to this new setup. Once the rate of expansion in money slows down or comes to a halt, the new pattern of consumption cannot be supported and the new capital structure that was erected becomes unprofitable and must be abandoned.

 

santorinigreeceUnfinished buildings in Greece. When a boom collapses, one will often see such left-overs: office buildings, residential buildings, factories, shopping malls, etc., that could not be finished as the real resources necessary to fund their completion never existed. Spain was littered with such “ghost developments” after its boom turned to bust in 2007/8.

Photo credit: Norbert Nagel

 

Conclusion

It is not surprising that Mises was strongly opposed to the idea that central banks should impose “low” interest rates during a recession in order to keep the economy going.

Instead, he believed that policymakers should not engage in the artificial lowering of interest rates, but rather refrain from any attempts to manage the economy via monetary policy.

By curtailing its interference with businesses, the central bank provides breathing space to wealth generators and thereby lays the foundation for a durable economic recovery.

 

Charts by: St. Louis Federal Reserve Research, Roger Garrison (adapted by J. Philipp for Acting Man)

 

Chart annotations and image captions by PT

 

Dr. Frank Shostak is an Associated Scholar of the Mises Institute. His consulting firm, Applied Austrian School Economics (AASE), provides in-depth assessments and reports of financial markets and global economies. He received his bachelor’s degree from Hebrew University, master’s degree from Witwatersrand University and PhD from Rands Afrikaanse University, and has taught at the University of Pretoria and the Graduate Business School at Witwatersrand University.

 

This article appeared originally at Mises.org

 

 

 

Emigrate While You Can... Learn More

 


 

 
 

Dear Readers!

You may have noticed that our so-called “semiannual” funding drive, which started sometime in the summer if memory serves, has seamlessly segued into the winter. In fact, the year is almost over! We assure you this is not merely evidence of our chutzpa; rather, it is indicative of the fact that ad income still needs to be supplemented in order to support upkeep of the site. Naturally, the traditional benefits that can be spontaneously triggered by donations to this site remain operative regardless of the season - ranging from a boost to general well-being/happiness (inter alia featuring improved sleep & appetite), children including you in their songs, up to the likely allotment of privileges in the afterlife, etc., etc., but the Christmas season is probably an especially propitious time to cross our palms with silver. A special thank you to all readers who have already chipped in, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Regardless of that, we are honored by everybody's readership and hope we have managed to add a little value to your life.

   

Bitcoin address: 12vB2LeWQNjWh59tyfWw23ySqJ9kTfJifA

   
 

Your comment:

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Most read in the last 20 days:

  • The Capital Structure as a Mirror of the Bubble Era
      Effects of Monetary Pumping on the Real World As long time readers know, we are looking at the economy through the lens of Austrian capital and monetary theory (see here for a backgrounder on capital theory and the production structure). In a nutshell: Monetary pumping falsifies interest rate signals by pushing gross market rates below the rate that reflects society-wide time preferences; this distorts relative prices in the economy and sets a boom into motion – which is characterized by...
  • Full Faith and Credit in Counterfeit Money
      A Useful Public Service There are nooks and corners in every city where talk is cheap and scandal is honorable.  The Alley, in Downtown Los Angeles, is a magical place where shrewd entrepreneurs, shameless salesmen, and downright hucksters coexist in symbiotic disharmony.  Fakes, fugazis, and knock-offs galore, pack the roll-up storefronts with sparkle and shimmer.   The Alley in LA – in places such as this, consumers are as a rule well served by applying a little bit of...
  • How to Get Ahead in Today’s Economy
      “Literally On Fire” This week brought forward more evidence that we are living in a fabricated world. The popular story-line presents a world of pure awesomeness. The common experience, however,  falls grossly short.   There are many degrees of awesomeness, up to total awesomeness – which is where we are these days, in the age of total awesomeness, just a short skip away from the Nirvana era. What is Nirvana, you may wonder? We only know for sure that Nirvana is what...
  • US Money Supply Growth Jumps in March , Bank Credit Growth Stalls
      A Movie We Have Seen Before – Repatriation Effect? There was a sizable increase in the year-on-year growth rate of the true US money supply TMS-2 between February and March. Note that you would not notice this when looking at the official broad monetary aggregate M2, because the component of TMS-2 responsible for the jump is not included in M2. Let us begin by looking at a chart of the TMS-2 growth rate and its 12-month moving average.   The y/y growth rate of TMS-2...
  • Gold and Gold Stocks – Conundrum Alert
      Moribund Meandering Earlier this week, the USD gold price was pushed rather unceremoniously off its perch above the $1300 level, where it had been comfortably ensconced all year after its usual seasonal rally around the turn of the year. For a while it seemed as though the $1,300 level may actually hold, but persistent US dollar strength nixed that idea. Previously many observers (too many?) expected gold to finally break out from its lengthy consolidation pattern, but evidently the...
  • Fear and Longing - Precious Metals Supply and Demand
      Waiting for Permanent Backwardation  The price of gold dropped 9 bucks, while that of silver rose 3 cents. Readers often ask us if permanent backwardation (when gold withdraws its bid on the dollar) is still coming. We say it is certain (unless we can avert it by offering interest on gold at large scale). They ask is it imminent, and we think this is with a mixture of fear and longing for a higher gold price.   Lettuce hope this treasure is not cursed... but it probably is....
  • Scorn and Reverence - Precious Metals Supply and Demand
      Shill Alarm One well-known commentator this week opined about the US health care industry:   “...the system is designed the churn and burn... to push people through the clinics as quickly as possible. The standard of care now is to prescribe some medication (usually antibiotics) and send people on their way without taking the time to conduct a comprehensive examination.”   From the annals of modern health care... [PT]   Nope. That is not the standard...
  • Global Turn-of-the-Month Effect – An Update
      In Other Global Markets the “Turn-of-the-Month” Effect Generates Even Bigger Returns than in the US The “turn-of-the-month” effect is one of the most fascinating stock market phenomena. It describes the fact that price gains primarily tend to occur around the turn of the month. By contrast, the rest of the time around the middle of the month is typically far less profitable for investors.   Good vs. bad seasonal timing...   [PT]   The effect has been studied...
  • Tales from “The Master of Disaster”
      Tightening Credit Markets Daylight extends a little further into the evening with each passing day.  Moods ease.  Contentment rises.  These are some of the many delights the northern hemisphere has to offer this time of year. As summer approaches, and dispositions loosen, something less amiable is happening.  Credit markets are tightening.  The yield on the 10-Year Treasury note has exceeded 3.12 percent.   A change in pace: yields are actually going somewhere. There is...
  • Is Political Decentralization the Only Hope for Western Civilization?
      Voting with their Feet A couple of recent articles have once more made the case, at least implicitly, for political decentralization as the only viable path which will begin to solve the seemingly insurmountable political, economic, and social crises which the Western world now faces.   Fracture lines – tax and regulatory competition allows people to “vote with their feet” - and they certainly do. [PT]   In the last few months, over 3,000 millionaires have...
  • Why the Fundamental Gold Price Rose - Precious Metals Supply and Demand
      Gold Lending and Arbitrage There was no rise in the purchasing power of gold this week. The price of gold fell $22, and that of silver $0.19. One question that comes up is why is the fundamental price so far above the market price? Starting in January, the fundamental price began to move up sharply, and the move sustained through the end of April.   1-month LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate – the rate at which banks lend euro-dollars to each other). LIBOR and GOFO...

Support Acting Man

Item Guides

Top10BestPro
j9TJzzN

The Review Insider

Dog Blow

Austrian Theory and Investment

Archive

350x200

THE GOLD CARTEL: Government Intervention on Gold, the Mega Bubble in Paper and What This Means for Your Future

Realtime Charts

 

Gold in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

Gold in EUR:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

Silver in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

Platinum in USD:

[Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]

 


 

USD - Index:

[Most Recent USD from www.kitco.com]

 

Mish Talk

 
Buy Silver Now!
 
Buy Gold Now!
 

Oilprice.com

Diary of a Rogue Economist