Paul vs Paul: Round 2

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Azizonomics

Paul vs Paul: Round 2

Bloomberg viewers estimate that Ron Paul was the winner of the clash of the Pauls. But that is very much beside the point. This wasn’t really a debate. Other than the fascinating moment where Krugman denied defending the economic policies of Diocletian, very little new was said, and the two combatants mainly talked past each other.

The real debate happened early last decade.

To wit:

Readers are free to make up their own minds who won that one.

And so, round two. Krugman wants more inflation; Paul is scared of the prospect. From Paul’s FT editorial yesterday:

Control of the world’s economy has been placed in the hands of a banking cartel, which holds great danger for all of us. True prosperity requires sound money, increased productivity, and increased savings and investment. The world is awash in US dollars, and a currency crisis involving the world’s reserve currency would be an unprecedented catastrophe. No amount of monetary expansion can solve our current financial problems, but it can make those problems much worse.

Or, as Professor Krugman sees it:

Would a rise in inflation to 3 percent or even 4 percent be a terrible thing? On the contrary, it would almost surely help the economy.

 

How so? For one thing, large parts of the private sector continue to be crippled by the overhang of debt accumulated during the bubble years; this debt burden is arguably the main thing holding private spending back and perpetuating the slump. Modest inflation would, however, reduce that overhang — by eroding the real value of that debt — and help promote the private-sector recovery we need. Meanwhile, other parts of the private sector (like much of corporate America) are sitting on large hoards of cash; the prospect of moderate inflation would make letting the cash just sit there less attractive, acting as a spur to investment — again, helping to promote overall recover.

Ron Paul believes that inflationary interventions into the dollar economy will have unpredictable and dangerous ramifications. Paul Krugman believes that a little more inflation (although he forgets that by the old measure of CPI inflation is already running at 9%, far higher than his supposed target) will spur economic activity and decrease residual debt overhang. Krugman seems to give no credence to the prospect of inflation spiralling out of hand, or of such policies triggering other deleterious side-effects, like a currency crisis.

The prospect of a currency crisis is a topic I have covered in depth lately: as more Eurasian nations ditch the dollar as reserve currency, more dollars (there are $5 trillion floating around Asia, in comparison to a domestic monetary base of just $1.8 trillion — the dollar is an absurdly internationalised currency) will be making their way back into the domestic American economy, and that this may have a steep inflationary impact. Additionally, many of the deflationary pressures that existed in 2008 or 2009 (e.g. shadow bank deleveraging) aren’t there anymore.

I don’t really know how much of this is to do with the Fed’s inflationary policies, and how much is to do with the United States’ role as global hegemon coming to an end. I tend to think that the dollar hegemony has always been backed by American military force, and with the American military overstretched and its funding increasingly debt-fuelled, the dollar’s role is naturally threatened. If America can’t play the global policeman for global trade, why would the dollar be the currency on global trade?

However it must be noted that America’s creditors do believe that their assets are threatened by the Fed’s inflationism.

As the Telegraph noted last year:

There has been a hostile reaction by China, Brazil and Germany, among others, to the Federal Reserve’s decision to resume quantitative easing.

Or as a Xinhua editorial put it:

China, the largest creditor of the world’s sole superpower, has every right now to demand the United States to address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China’s dollar assets.

Probably, the egg of American imperial decline came before the chicken of the recent inflationism, but that inflationism certainly has the capacity to worsen the problems rather than lessen them. After all, if America’s consumption-based economy is dependent on China’s continued exportation, and Krugman is advocating slamming creditors (i.e. China) by inflating away their debt-denominated financial assets, then surely Krugman’s suggestions imperil the already-fragile trans-Pacific consumer-producer relationship?

And this is a crucial matter — there is nothing, I think, more crucial than the free availability of goods and resources through the trade infrastructure, which is something that Krugman’s policies seem to endanger.

As commenter Thomas P. Seager noted yesterday:

[The situation today] is directly analogous to the first Oil Shock in 1973. In the decades prior, the US had been a major oil producer. However, efficiency gains and discoveries overseas resulting in an incrementally increasing dependence of foreign petroleum. Price signals failed to materialize that would caution policy makers and industrialists of the risks.

 

Then, the disruption of oil supplies from the Middle East caused tremendous economic dislocations.

 

Manufacturing is undergoing the same process. The supply chain disruption from the Japanese earthquake and Tsunami was merely a warning shot. Imagine if S Korean manufacturing were taken off-line for any length of time (a plausible scenario). The disruption to US industry would be catastrophic.

 

In the name of increased efficiency, we have introduced brittleness.

Time will tell which Paul is right. But I know where I stand.