(Week 22 - Friday, Jan. 9 / 2009)
The root cause of inflation within the present system is the "interest" charge attached to the private bank loans by which our money supply is created and loaned into circulation. It is really, I suggest, about as simple as that. To be sure, there are secondary factors that exacerbate inflationary tendencies, but these are mainly psychological, and derive from the inexorable effects of charging "interest" on money at the point of issuance. This may seem strange to the modern ear, given the profusion of arcane economic analysis in the media and academia that portrays "inflation" as if it were some insoluble economic phenomenon that we can only hope to keep under control through sound "business" management.
The truth is, in my view, that "inflation" is not some phantasmal monetary lion roaming about seeking what economic chaos it can cause and whosever's wealth it may devour, but rather the straightforward result of something that We the People permit to be done with our money; that is, we permit it to be created and loaned into circulation from a private corporate entity (the Federal Reserve and private banking system) at "interest." When we stop that practice, the fuel will be withdrawn from the "inflationary" fire.
It is true that "inflation" would still be possible under the auspices of a public monetary system if too much money were issued, but that would be an unlikely outcome within a system that was transparently amenable to control. As it is now, "inflation" has plagued this society, and indeed most of the world, as a mysterious specter for the almost-century since "debt-money" was firmly established as the basis of the monetary system, and hardly anyone with significant influence or control within the system seems to know what to do about it.
To understand the root cause of "inflation" we need only look at how a typical bank loan plays out over time. Suppose that an entrepreneur were to borrow money from a bank to build a small factory. The banker would create the money when he writes the check, and the entrepreneur would spend it into circulation when he paid whatever contractors were hired to build his factory.
Let us suppose further that the term of that loan was ten years. That means that over ten years time, the manufacturing firm that was set up in that factory would have to charge enough for its products to earn back the money to satisfy the contract which spelled out the terms by which the loan would be repaid.
If, hypothetically, there were no "interest" charges on the loan, then the amount to be repaid would be only the original principle balance. Under current practices, however, there would be an "interest" charge which would, typically, more-or-less double the amount of money required to be "paid back" over ten years. It is obvious that this doubled "cost" would have to be covered in higher prices charged by the factory for whatever goods it produced. What is more, this increased "cost" is in no way associated with an enhanced material input into the product. Clearly, then, the price of the product will be "inflated" by the "interest" charge.
But the matter does not end there. The money paid to cover the "interest" goes to financial speculators who have purchased "debt"-based financial instruments (loan contracts, bundled mortgages, bonds, etc.) for the very purpose of receiving those remittances. Assuming that they are not going to spend that money themselves, or gift it back to society through philanthropic efforts, they will effectively withhold those funds from circulation until someone borrows them back into circulation. When that happens we say in the current financial culture that these funds were "reinvested," but the overall burden of "debt" borne by the money supply will have been increased without, even, the injection of newly-created money to help bear it. New money will eventually have to borrowed into existence from private banks to help roll over the growing "interest" charge, and this in turn will have to be factored into the "cost" of producing more goods, thus driving up prices.
It should be noted here that under a public monetary system, a given private enterprise may or may not be eligible to borrow money directly, not-at-interest, from the public sector. That would be a matter of public policy. However that is worked out, it is still a fact that the aggregate "interest" burden borne by the participants in the micro-economy would be reduced by whatever payments would have been required to maintain a money supply borrowed from a private banking system in circulation.
In any case, the vicious spiral I have described here has been the very engine of "inflation" in our economy for almost a century. The expectation that prices will continue to rise is, in itself, a factor that insures that "inflation" will continue to roll. This becomes manifest in price structures, wage labor contracts, budgetary expectations and other hedges in the behaviors of participants in the micro-economy as they try to hold their own against what they anticipate as an inflationary tide.
This can go on only so long before confidence in the monetary scheme collapses, and indeed in the current financial crisis the tide is beginning to turn as we enter a deflationary period. This "deflation," is not an orderly reversing of the inflationary process, but rather a traumatic popping of the inflationary bubble. If the present "debt"-based system can be stabilized for another round of "economic growth" (by no means a sure prospect at this juncture), then the "inflation" dragon will rise again.
Originally the Federal Reserve System was proposed to the public as a means of creating a stable circulating currency of constant buying power. What has the ninety-six years of its existence shown? In 1913, the value of the dollar was approximately the same as it had been a century earlier. Immediately after the establishment of the Fed, prices began to inflate on a more-or-less continuous basis until the dollar today is worth only about 1/20 of its original value. This is because the monetary scheme implemented by the Fed is based on issuing money through loans to which a compounding "interest" charge is attached, and these compounding charges for the use of money must be covered as a cost of doing business; ergo "inflation."
In my view, though we as a nation did not adequately realize it at the time, the mode by which money would be created and issued under the Fed made this outcome a virtually forgone conclusion.
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The complete set of columns from this series is posted at the following websites.