(Preamble: This essay contains economic charts which are explanatory on a technical level but you can skip them without affecting general content as they are there to underpin technical validity.)
Government is often compared to a parasite in economic context. It produces nothing yet takes from the economy for its own needs and for the needs of voters. I believe that a better analogy for government’s presence in an economic system is that or a predator.
Prey gathers the resources of the earth and converts it into desirable protein. Predators hunt the prey and consume the proteins directly. A sustainable ecosystem in which there is dynamic harmony and balance between predator and prey ensures the survival of both hunter and prey within the boundaries of available resources of food and water. A sustainable dynamic harmony will survive the changing of the seasons, climate cycles and even some catastrophes.
A similar harmony exists inside an economic system between the private sector and the public sector.
Contemplate for a moment that the predators get access to a new refined hunting technique which turns natural prey into abundant “canned prey”. The predators will enter a growth phase that will vastly increase the numbers of predators. The harmony and balance of the ecosystem will slowly change. Initially the targeted canned pay will sustain the growth but the increased numbers of hunting predators will place pressure on the supply chain of prey. Growth of the prey population will contract in a dynamic exchange process relative to the growth of the predator population. This process will accelerate with the growth of predators’ numbers while dwindling numbers of natural prey will force greater harvesting of “canned prey” for predator growth and survival. Natural prey is overharvested and the renewal of the herds gets destroyed. In time natural prey will all but disappear. Hungry predators will hunt all remaining natural prey to extinction with the new irresistible hunting technique, while progressively starving on their way to their own extinction.
It is a somewhat nasty outcome as the change in “hunting technique” must be counterbalanced by a change in “escaping technique” for prey to restore a sustainable harmony in the ecosystem.
Modern monetary policy has handed to the governmental predator a new hunting technique on private sector prey. Digital monetary creation hides the overharvesting of production surpluses mostly manifested in savings and capital, the flesh that governments consume. Predatory government growth explodes and it hunts the production surpluses to extinction. Then it hunts all remaining capital and savings to extinction. Politicians throughout history have often claimed to be at war with the markets. To be at war with the markets or the economy generally is to be at war with one’s own citizens.
The predators in my analogy have a “licence to kill”. We know that as society we give to governments also a licence to kill. We know further that we must diligently watch and monitor government’s use of its licence to kill, for a government that develops an excessive appetite for killing is a dangerous and probably harmful government which will soon find itself at odds with its population. Voters in democratic systems will kick out and probably prosecute such a government in no time.
Society also grants governments a “licence to hunt” in the economy by way of taxation. We diligently watch government’s taxation for a government that similarly develops an excessive appetite for taxation is a harmful government and will soon find itself at odds with its population. Voters in democratic systems will similarly kick out such a government in no time.
Governments being predatory are always on the lookout for ways to grow its presence. It needs taxation or debt to fund its growth. Voters are not too diligent on government debt and if governments can hide debt growth in accounting practices then so much the better. Success means no general voters’ revolt against government debt formation. Government can grow somewhat but before long it vests the majority of economically available savings upon itself and voters get restless.
Predatory government then needs to find a new refined hunting technique. A technique that will allow it to continue to grow by way of debt, without causing a voters’ revolt.
It finds the refined new hunting technique in the creation of digital money with which it can increase the liquidity quantity of savings by counterfeiting money. It uses the central bank to achieve this objective and disguises its own hand in the arrangement in the pretence of an independent central bank. In modern monetary economics governments have realised that it need not arrange with the central bank to hand over all the counterfeit money, it only needs to have access to more-and-more debt without appearing to consume all the savings and liquidity for itself. By not claiming all the newly created liquidity governments successfully bribes the institutional economy and private sector leadership with early access to and super profits from the newly created liquidity.
“Money is the root of all evil”, is a general misquote from the Good Book. The more correct quote is "For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil," [see Wikipedia on Root of all Evil.] Debt is not evil and very useful to the economy when it is utilised in a responsible and sustainable manner. Love of debt from liquidity creation is a root of all sorts of evil.
This sets into motion a process of unsustainable debt formation. A process that once started, is almost impossible to turn around. A process that will destroy the harmonious coexistence between predator and prey until both are extinct. A self destruction process unless the ecosystem/economic system finds a way to rebalance the coexistence between predator and prey.
The intervention and liquidity provision not only increase the amount of available debt, it also cause a reduction in interest rates. A fantastic outcome for the predators but for the unintended outcome on supply of savings from production surpluses.
The economic system can only generate sustainable debt at the lower savings supply level before the addition of liquidity provision and at the higher interest rate which sustains that level of savings formation. The new normal for sustainable debt at the lower interest rate is an even lower level of savings formation at that lower interest rate.
The new economic reality is that the economic system can no longer facilitate repayment of the debt levels unless some future external economic rescue happens, for example a major technological advance with significant economic benefits. Thus the system now generates unsustainable debt, not capable of repayment from savings. Debt not capable of repayment from savings is debt not capable of repayment at all. Thus this monetary model generates bad debts. Bad debts that the private sector users of debt will eventually find impossible to repay from private sector savings. Bad public debt that the governments will eventually be unable to repay from politically viable tax collections.
This process of liquidity creation will accelerate and feed upon itself until it drives the economy into zero interest rates and drive savings towards extinction. Zero interest rates are no impediment against further expansions of digital liquidity.
This process is hyperinflationary in the extreme but the hyperinflation can manifest in CPI or in asset bubbles. In fact, modern monetary policy prides itself on avoiding the CPI outcome. The most notable asset bubble is the overvaluation of debt based financial assets. The global economy discovered some of that overvalued private debt in 2007. Discovering the overvaluation of government debt lies at the end of this road. Discovering also that government will default on its obligations against all populist expectations is another systemic shock in waiting. Government debt default arrives first covertly, but eventually overtly. We have already seen the incremental defaults on pension liabilities by increasing the pension age. Proportional international debt default is usually achieved through currency devaluation, presently captured in the desperate race between governments towards having the weakest currency. Early signs of public default are governmental debt collapse around the fringes. Will Greek citizens be forced to repay in euro savings or will the Greek government be forced to abandon the euro and devalue a new Greek currency in partial debt default? The true nightmare is the reality of pension fund savings invested in mispriced, hyper inflated private and public debt. Monetary liquidity provision destroys savings with no regard for international borders. Defaults will similarly not pay homage to international borders. Governments will be forced to protect their national savings base against predatory monetary policies of other governments.
Hyper inflated equity prices are yet another manifestation of the digital liquidity hyperinflation wrapped in palatable form, if not extremely attractive marketable form.
The liquidity provisions from digital money must be removed from the global economy for structural harmony to be restored. Either through a long term return to a culture of savings without any further increases in liquidity provision via digital money, debt default or a combination of both. Most of such renewed saving will probably be expropriated through taxes by governments to the extent that they need to reduce their predatory debt levels.
Furthermore, substantial new savings formation cannot happen at zero interest rates. It follows that the division between default and savings formation will be decided at interest rate level. If zero interest rates are a given, then await the default process. Higher taxes and increased interest rates will see a gradual return to harmony. Point out those politicians who will be able to sell higher interest rates and higher taxes and survive at the polls then calculate the odds for systemic default. Voters won’t vote for order and will harvest chaos.
We have already entered the final phase of this process. Look around and know that you are prey even if only for the pension savings flesh that you can provide. Know that governments will hunt your savings like hungry lions in their quest to preserve the pride. Know that your savings cannot prevail against the hungry lions unless you have nimbly removed it from the hunting grounds and placed it into assets far removed from prying eyes of hungry lions. Know also that banks cannot survive without deposits. When most deposits are driven into hyper inflated traded debt or equity in search of alpha, know that a banking system built upon monetary liquidity rather than savings is a system that cannot survive in that form. Know thus that banking systemic risk will untimely rear its ugly head once more when government defaults consume the last available true savings in the system.
BCom (Cum Laude), CAIB (NYSEMKT:SA).
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© Sarel Oberholster
Disclosure: No Positions