16 March 2012

Episodes of Hyperinflation from Diocletian to Bernanke - How It Might Unfold Today

Both hyperinflation and protracted deflation are extraordinary economic events. And it is telling that they are much more common in the 20th century and after than in all preceding recorded history. Ah, the joys of modernity.

While prices can certainly increase based on fluctuations in supply and demand, by my definition 'a general price inflation is an increase in the money supply without a corresponding increase in real output causing an increase in general price levels.'

War and other natural disasters and dislocations can cause temporary bouts of severe inflation and deflation, but endogenous episodes of hyperinflation or deflation are almost always the result of policy error in a genuinely sovereign currency, that is, not contingent on an external entity. Although that policy error can be precipitated as a response to some external stimulus, very often unfunded war debts for example.

War is a spectacularly unproductive expenditure, and a nation that engages in continual wars is almost always brought to eventual economic ruin, if for nothing else than overreach.

Hyperinflation is generally considered to be an increase of over 50% in price levels based on a monetary phenomenon. This increase is caused by decisions on the part of the central bank to increase the money supply at a high rate leading to a loss in its value.

Although it is a low probability event I have said that a hyperinflation, since it is a policy decision, is certainly possible in the US dollar. I have spent quite a bit of time trying to assess the probabilities, and in order to do that, one must understand the actual mechanism by which it would occur. I had been unable to find that described elsewhere, except in the most general of terms and the piling on of anecdotal evidence.

Based on my own thinking, the most likely cause of it would be an inappropriate response to a threat to the banks because of an event in the derivatives market which is a major credit bubble, intricately interlocking almost all financial institutions.  Critical Mass: The Mispricing of Derivatives Risk and How the Financial World Ends.

I think there is sufficient room for doubt that the Fed, the President and the Congress would 'do the right thing' for the public rather than their crony capitalists when it comes down to it. They are caught in a credibility trap, and are unable to police or reform the system without indicting themselves.

I have even entertained the thought that a few of the Banks have used their own precarious positions as leverage, a sort of soft extortion, or mutually assured destruction, to fundamentally do as they please. I am not alone in this. Mr. Max Keiser calls them 'financial terrorists,' and in his highly expressive way he may be right.    That was certainly evident in the passage of the TARP.

I would be prepared to say that most of the very powerful businessmen and politicians I have met, with a few notable exceptions, are not very nice people, and as they would themselves proudly attest, not ordinarily human. They tend to the emotional and spiritual depth of salamanders, or gekkos to borrow a meme. Hard to say where they might fit on Maslow's hierarchy. On par with toasters?

It is funny how often a society confuses the accumulation of wealth and power with wisdom and virtue, when history shows it to be most often quite the opposite.

I have often wondered at their propensity to collect beautiful things. Did J P Morgan really enjoy his wonderful collection of manuscripts? Did William Randolph Hearst rise to ecstasy with his art collection? I am sure that I understand Mr. Dennis Kozlowski's enjoyment of his $15,000 umbrella stand. I do have children you know.

Here is a list of some of the more famous episodes of hyperinflation throughout history.

Episodes of Hyperinflation - San Jose State University

Here is my own list of of Serious Inflations Since WW II.

For the specific feel of a hyperinflation, there are few better books than When Money Dies: The Nightmare of the Weimar Collapse by Adam Fergusson. This is a link to an online copy of the book.

Some Common Fallacies About Inflation and Deflation is also worth reading if for nothing else than to find out 'what works' best in such circumstances as a hyperinflation.

And lastly there are my own recollections of a country on the cusp of a hyperinflationary episode, Moscow Memories of 1997.

If there is such a hyperinflationary episode in the US, it will almost certainly be a massive theft of wealth, under cover of some false flag episode or similar story, blaming it on China or Iran, or some natural disaster, for example.

The Fed and the monied interests are unlikely to voluntarily accept responsibility for the disaster, for the same reasons that they are unwilling to engage in genuine reform. The way that the theft of customer funds at MF Global was handled may give you some idea of how it might unfold, except on a much larger scale. You would be fortunate to tithe only ten percent to the monetary powers, the dark rulers of this world, and spiritual wickedness in high places. Their only response is 'more.'