Austrian economics is the only school of economics that accurately predicted our current problems. If they predicted the consequences of central banking and a fiat currency, maybe we ought to be listening to them about how to get out of the mess. Martin Masse at the National Post has a long Op-Ed that finally gives the Austrians their due:
First he rips the alleged free market economist who favor the Paulson plan:
In his Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, Karl Marx proposed 10 measures to be implemented after the proletariat takes power, with the aim of centralizing all instruments of production in the hands of the state. Proposal Number Five was to bring about the “centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.”
If he were to rise from the dead today, Marx might be delighted to discover that most economists and financial commentators, including many who claim to favour the free market, agree with him.
Then he boils down the Austrian view to one great paragraph:
At first glance, anyone who understands economics can see that there is something wrong with this picture. The taxes that will need to be levied to finance this package may keep some firms alive, but they will siphon off capital, kill jobs and make businesses less productive elsewhere. Increasing the money supply is no different. It is an invisible tax that redistributes resources to debtors and those who made unwise investments.
The Austrian school believes the central bank is at the center of the mess:
Not only is the central bank constantly creating money out of thin air, but the fractional reserve system allows financial institutions to increase credit many times over. When money creation is sustained, a financial bubble begins to feed on itself, higher prices allowing the owners of inflated titles to spend and borrow more, leading to more credit creation and to even higher prices.
As prices get distorted, malinvestments, or investments that should not have been made under normal market conditions, accumulate. Despite this, financial institutions have an incentive to join this frenzy of irresponsible lending, or else they will lose market shares to competitors. With “liquidities” in overabundance, more and more risky decisions are made to increase yields and leveraging reaches dangerous levels.
During that manic phase, everybody seems to believe that the boom will go on. Only the Austrians warn that it cannot last forever, as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises did before the 1929 crash, and as their followers have done for the past several years.
If that doesn’t describe what just happened, I don’t know what does. The cure for this situation is to let the market do its work:
Now, what should be done when that pyramidal scheme starts crashing to the floor, because of a series of cascading failures or concern from the central bank that inflation is getting out of control? It’s obvious that credit will shrink, because everyone will want to get out of risky businesses, to call back loans and to put their money in safe places. Malinvestments have to be liquidated; prices have to come down to realistic levels; and resources stuck in unproductive uses have to be freed and moved to sectors that have real demand. Only then will capital again become available for productive investments.
Friedmanites, who have no conception of malinvestments and never raise any issue with the boom, also cannot understand why it inevitably leads to a crash.
They only see the drying up of credit and blame the Fed for not injecting massive enough amounts of liquidities to prevent it.
But central banks and governments cannot transform unprofitable investments into profitable ones. They cannot force institutions to increase lending when they are so exposed. This is why calls for throwing more money at the problem are so totally misguided. Injections of liquidities started more than a year ago and have had no effect in preventing the situation from getting worse. Such measures can only delay the market correction and turn what should be a quick recession into a prolonged one.
This is why I have said that the bailout will just prolong the agony. You have to let this run its course so we can rebuild our capital base. The government cannot create new capital; it must come from savings.
The confusion of the Chicago school, Milton Friedman followers is leading them down a false path. We have reached the point where the bubble cannot be reinflated:
Friedman — who, contrary to popular perception, was not a foe of monetary inflation, but simply wanted to keep it under better control in normal circumstances — was wrong about the Fed not intervening during the Depression. It tried repeatedly to inflate but credit still went down for various reasons. This is a key difference in interpretation between the Austrian and Chicago schools.
As Friedrich Hayek wrote in 1932, “Instead of furthering the inevitable liquidation of the maladjustments brought about by the boom during the last three years, all conceivable means have been used to prevent that readjustment from taking place; and one of these means, which has been repeatedly tried though without success, from the earliest to the most recent stages of depression, has been this deliberate policy of credit expansion. … To combat the depression by a forced credit expansion is to attempt to cure the evil by the very means which brought it about …”
The confusion of Chicago school economics on monetary issues is so profound as to lead its adherents today to support the largest government grab of private capital in world history. By adding their voices to those on the left, these confused free-marketeers are not helping to “save capitalism”, but contributing to its destruction.
The quickest way out of this is to let the market work. Let the bad banks fail and the good ones will take over. We might have a recession but it will be over fairly quickly if we don’t do anything stupid. The depression became Great for a variety of reasons but one of those reasons was not bad monetary policy. Hoover increased taxes and raised tariffs. FDR raised taxes further and enacted all kinds of make work projects. If the next President tries these things, he will just prolong the adjustment period. The Austrian approach is akin to ripping the band aid off. All other approaches are like pulling it off a little bit at a time. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to rip it off and get it over with.
Read all of Masse’s article. It is an eye opener.