maandag 17 juni 2019 - 03:04
Time preference and fiat money
Today’s economists do not recognise time-preference. For them, economics is about Jevon’s mathematics, state-issued currencies and the exclusion of human interest. They say we have moved on from the household economics of yester-year, and they despise classical stick-in-the-muds. But we can see from their repeated failure to tame human action in order to conform to their economic models that modern economists do not have the answers either. All they have done is cover up their failures through monetary inflation.
The ubiquity of unbacked state currencies certainly introduces new dimensions into prices and deferred settlement. Not only is the saver isolated from borrowers through bank intermediation and the belief his deposits are still his property, but his savings are debased through monetary inflation without his knowledge. The interest he expects is treated as an inconvenient cost of production, to be minimised. Interest earned is taxed as if it were the profit from a capitalist trade, and not compensation for a temporary loss of possession.
Consequently, the saver has been driven to speculate well beyond the possibility of not being repaid by a borrower by buying equities instead. He swaps credit risk for entrepreneurial risk. And because the expansion of bank credit out of thin air favours the entrepreneur over the saver, the theory goes that over time he is compensated for the loss of interest. The whole system has changed, and even consumers, who under the classical economic model would defer some of their consumption, have become unsecured borrowers themselves.
It is this evolution away from the strictures of time preference that has taken us to zero and negative interest rates. Yet, if the cost of money was simply its interest rate, the economy would be permanently mended and there would be no credit cycle. Why on earth it took the planners so long to understand the benefits of free money, and to even pay borrowers to borrow, would have been a mystery. Yet, experience and an understanding that economics is a human science tells us otherwise. Despite handing out free money, the Eurozone is in a worse economic and systemic condition than it was before the Lehman crisis ten years ago, with major bank share prices languishing at all-time lows. And all zero interest rates have achieved, together with aggressive monetary debasement, was the deferment of a banking and systemic crisis.
But credit cycles still exist. At their root is the issuance of money and credit on terms that do not reflect time preference. The value of ownership compared with the promise of future ownership has to be respected. It is not something a monetary planner can decide, because it is wholly a market phenomenon. No one but individual consumers can contribute to the collective judgments that say this any species of bird is worth more than two of them in the bush.
Ignoring time preference is the fundamental error behind monetary planning. It is why in a successful economy, monetary intervention by the state is kept to a bare minimum, or preferably banished altogether. Instead, it builds on the error of Jevon’s mathematical approach and the banishment of the people’s choice of money, which throughout history has been metallic.