AN INFLATION PRIMER

INSTITUTE FOR
PHILOSOPHICAL AND HISTORICAL
STUDIES
EDUCATIONAL SERIES
Number 1
AN
INFLATION
PRIMER
by Melchior Palyi
T he Tyranny of a prince in an oli-
garchy is not so dangerous to the
public welfare as the apathy of a citi-
zen in a democracy. - Montesquieu,
Spirit of the Laws.
HENRY REGNERY COMPANY
CHICAGO 1962
© Copyright 1961 by IIenry Regnery Company
Library of Congress card number 61-10743
Manufactured in the United States of America
Second Printing 1962
The Institute for Philosophical and Historical Studies, Inc., 64 East
Jackson Boulevard, Chicago 4, Illinois, is a non-profit corporation
organized, among other purposes, to encourage and disseminate
studies that are calculated to add to the understanding of philosophy,
history, and related fields and their application to human endeavor.
Books in the various Institute series are published in the interest of
public information and debate. They represent the free expression
of their authors and do not necessarily indicate the judgment and
opinions of the Institute.
PREFACE
Except for minor corrections and addi'tions, this
study was completed in June, 1960, and delivered
at the end of the following September. Publication
having been delayed for over three months, the
last chapter was rewritten to take cognizance of
the "gold crisis" that has lately come to the fore.
The idea to write a little book of this nature
was suggested to the author nearly two years ago
by the publisher, Mr. Henry Regnery. For many
useful hints and observations, I am greatly obliged
to Mr. Marion R. Baty, editor of the Economic
Trend Line Studies (Chicago), and to Dr. Walter
E. Spahr (New York). My sincere gratitude is
due, especially, to Mr. Philip M. McKenna, Presi-
dent of the Kennametal, Inc., of Latrobe, Penn-
sylvania, for his inspiration and generous help.
Chicago) January 17) 1961 MELCHIOR PALYI
CONTENTS
I. INFLATION'S SYNDROME ••....••..•••• 1
Galloping and Creeping Inflation .
"Legalized Robbery"
Inflation Defined
Creeping Inflation:-A Preview
Where Does the Inflation Stand?
II. THE Modus Operandi OF INFLATION ... 10
Productive Credit-Monetizing Real
Purchasing Power
Inflationary Monetization
Liquidity-by Inflation
The Central Engine of Inflation
III. THE FOUNTAINHEADS OF INFLATION •..• 18
The Money-Printing Automat
Managed Money-the One-WayRoad
Inflation by "Debt Management"
IV. THE VICIOUS SPIRALS ••..••••••••••••• 28
The Parable of the Horse
and the Trough
Cost-Push Inflation?
Built-in Inflation
v. RIDING ON THE INFLATION CREST ••.•••• 39
Spreading the Inflation
The Fallacy of Built-in Stabilizers
The Productivity Debate
Labor Disincentives by Inflation
Productivity and Capacity to Pay
CONTENTS (continued)
VI. THE CONSUMER (AND TAXPAYER)
BE DAMNED .•.•.....••.••••••••••• 48
Who Pays the Bill?
The Pot Calls the Kettle Black
Profit Inflation
VII. THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION ••••• 56
Opportunism Versus Principles
"Mind Your Own Business"
Perpetual Prosperity without Tears
The Rationale of the Cycle
Progress or "Growth"?
VIII. CREEPING INFLATION AND INTELLECTUAL
HONE.STY •••••.•..••..•....••••.•• 71
How Much Is a Little?
Cutting the Dog's Tail Piecemeal
Power Versus Freedom
Must We Follow the Kremlin?
IX. CREEPING INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET:
THE LIABILITIES ...........•...••••• 84
Progress by Inflation
The Liability Side
Borrowing a Living Standard
"People's Capitalism"
x. THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT••• 98
Is It a Burden on the Nation?
The Economics of the Debt
Fiscal Legerdemains
Falsifying the Bank Balance Sheets
CONTENTS (continued)
XI. THE CURSE OF THE DEBT 110
The "Rationale" of Inflation
Fictional Finance and Monetization
Expanding on Overdraft
Debt Liquidation
Creeping Inflation's Suicide
XII. THE DOLLAR ON THE SICK BED .•••••••• 119
"Good as Gold"
The Sick Balance of Payments
Dollars in Oversupply
Can the Balance of Payments
Be Redressed?
XIII. THE SAD PREDICAMENT OF THE FOOL'S
PARADISE ••••••••••••••••••••••••• 128
Heading for Insolvency
Erosion-How Much Longer?
At the End of Creeping Inflation's
Rope
APPENDIX 0 ••• 0 •••• 0 ••• 0 ••••• 0 0 ••• 135
BIBLIOGRAPHY ...••..•..•.••.••.•...••.• 0 144
INDEX ••.• o •• 0 •••• 0 .•• 0 •• 0" •• ' •••• 0 ••• 0 ••• 147
I
INFLATION'S SYNDROME
GALLOPING AND CREEPING INFLATION
In the summer of 1923, the German inflation
was rapidly heading toward the grand finale: total
repudiation of the currency. As an instructor in
a Berlin college, this writer drew a monthly salary
that had been raised from an inflated 10,000 marks
or so in early 1922 to 10,000,000 marks by July,
1923, and the whole amount was being paid twice
a month; then, once every week; then once each
day. The next step to meet the skyrocketing living
costs was to pay us twice a day, in the morning
and in the afternoon.
Just after 5 P.M. one day in late August, 1923,
I was walking down the staircase of the school,
carrying the day's second haul of ten million marks
(the day's first paid for a modest lunch), when the
professor of physics overtook me. "Are you tak-
ing the streetcar?" he asked. "Yes," I said. "Let's
hurry. The fare will be raised by 6 P.M. We may
not be able to pay.it."
Galloping inflation threw the German economy
into virtual chaos and demoralized large segments
of the German people. Adolf Hitler was the ulti-
mate outcome. But at least it did not last long.
1
AN INFLATION PRIMER
Presently, we are living almost a lifetime with
creeping inflation that is supposed to go on indefi-
nitely-without accelerating. Admittedly, the gal-
loping kind is pernicious. Not so, we are being
assured, the creeping type; the advantages of the
latter far outweigh whatever unfavorable reper-
cussions there may be. Anyhow, we have (al-
legedly) no other choice but to continue what we
have been doing for the last two decades or longer,
and let the dollar's purchasing power slide further
-at a leisurely rate.
"LEGALIZED ROBBERY"
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statis-
tics, the index of (average) consumer prices has
risen from 1939 to mid-1960 from 100 to 209-the
purchasing power of the dollar declined from 100
to less than 48. This is what a former French pre-
mier, Paul Reynaud, called "legalized robbery."
Indeed, it is confiscation without compensation.
The victims are deprived of their purchasing
power. This is "robbery" on a national scale-a
surreptitious levy on liquid income and wealth,
raised in a haphazard fashion, with no regard for
ability to pay, no respect for the rule of law, for
equity and justice. It penalizes the saver, espe-
cially, and the honest producer, while the lucky
operator and the political manipulator may reap
unearned rewards. It is legalized, of course, the
government itself being the culprit.
2
INFLATION'S SYNDROME
Formal legalization does not confer justice by
any economic or ethical standards. The free-enter-
prise system stands on the pillar of the inviola-
bility of contracts; this pillar is weakened as the
value of money is impaired.
"Legalized robbery" is a universal feature of
counterfeit money, one created by government
fiat. It is the product of deliberate, arbitrary meas-
ures, not of economic processes. It generates in
the political arena, from which the effects spread
to the market place. The powers that rule- over
fiscal and central banking policies determine, in
effect, whether there will be inflation, how much,
and for how long.
INFLATION DEFINED
To be sure, not every rise of prices qualifies as
inflation. Sporadic oscillations should be disre-
garded. Nor is it of interest in our context if the
rise has been brought about by an expansion of
gold mining or gold imports. Price levels may rise
under the purest gold standard, but to a limited
extent only. Gold is a very scarce commodity;
paper is not. "Gold-inflation," if any, is self-correct-
ing; paper inflation is limited only by the total
collapse and repudiation of the currency.
It is the inflation of the money volume-paper
currency.. and bank deposits-that creates the fact
and maintains the expectation of a disproportion
between the total supply of goods for sale and the
3
AN INFLATION PRIMER
total amount of purchasing power people have
and are ready to use. Hence the definition; Money-
creation· is inflationary when the additional pur-
chasing power has no counterpart in goods and
services people want to buy-when too much
money chases too few goods.
In other words, inflation is a condition of the
economy in which a rising volume of created
money brings about rising production costs, higher
prices, and increasing costs of living.
Inflation tends to "feed on itself." The longer it
lasts, the stronger the expectation that it will con-
tinue. People borrow, spend, and speculate more
freely·than they otherwise would. The money cir-
culation is accelerated, the average dollar does ad-
ditional work, and prices are boosted additionally.
CREEPING INFLATION-A· PREVIEW
The purchasing power of the dollar is measured
by a weighted index number of retail prices re-
lated to a base period. The measure is far from
exact; it is merely an indication of the trend, or
drift. And "drift"-upward-our living costs have,
year after year since 1933, almost without inter-
ruption. At that, the consumer price index does
not account for everything we buy. It is tailored
to the household budget of the "average" worker
who spends little on books, colleges, t r a v ~ l , hotels,
and similar luxuries; the cost of personal services
bought by the consumer is understated, too. And
4
INFLATION'S SYNDROME
no price index can do justice to changes in the
quality of goods we buy or to the price effect of
trade-ins.
An idea of what inflation means is conveyed by
the table.
DETERIORATION OF FIXED-DoLLAR-VALUE ASSETS
HELD BY INDIVIDUALS·
%Depreciation
of Purchasing
Power of Dollar Year
1940 .
1941. .
1942 .
1943 .
1944 .
1945 .
1946 .
1947 .
1948 .
1949 .
1950 .
1951. .
1952 ..
1953 ..
1954 .
1955 .
1956 .
1957 ..
1958 .
1959 .
Total Assets
(billions)
$126.7
133.3
140.7
162.9
197.7
237.0
272.5
283.2
290.9
297.0
306.3
313.3
328.5
346.8
366.7
383.4
399.6
418.2
437.6
459.6
1.25
10.02
7.25
2.89
2.16
2.13
15.40
9.29
1.32
2.05
7.34
4.02
0.68
1.14
0.81
0.23
3.09
3.31
1.22
1.61
Loss of
Purchasing
Power of Assets
(billions)
S 1.6
13.4
10.2
4.7
4.3
5.0
41.9
26.3
3.8
6.1
22.5
12.6
2.2
4.0
3.0
0.9
12.4
13.8
5.4
7.4
Total loss $201.5
·Compiled by American Institute for Economic Research, Great
Barrington, Mass.
The fixed-dollar-value assets include mortgages,
bonds, bank deposits, savings accounts, the paid-
for insurance and social security -claims, etc. held
by individuals. And these savings of individuals
account for about 60 per cent of the annual capital
5
AN INFLATION PRIMER
accumulation. In twenty years they lost a total of
$201.5 billionl By that much, the debtors grew
richer-or did they really? We shall see. This much
is certain: the debts of consumers, businesses,
farmers, and municipalities grow faster than the
respective incomes. The financial position of all
debtor categories is worsening year after year. The
same holds for the biggest debtor, the national
government. Its obligations and commitments
have accumulated much faster than did the debt
"relief" brought about by currency depreciation.
The average interest. charge on its outstanding
debt instruments has risen in ten years from 2
per cent to over 3 per cent. Balancing the budget
becomes increasingly difficult, and the Treasury
has to dig ever deeper into the taxpayers' pockets.
That brings us to a most significant aspect of this
inflation of ours, different from those of the past.
The Civil War, for example, was financed largely
by inconvertible paper money-greenbacks. Taxes
were negligible by present-day standards. Now,
only a fraction of the governmental expenditures
is covered by incurring new debt. By far the
greater portion of the public revenue is raised by
taxes which suck up more than 25 per cent of the
national income. The tax burden falls largely on
the lower-middle-income brackets and on busi-
ness. One consequence is the difficulty for the
average citizen to protect his fortune against the
inflation without resorting to hazardous and dubi-
6
INFLATION'S SYNDROME
ous practices. What the government gives the
speculator by windfall profits and the debtor by
reductions in the real value of his debt, the gov-
ernment takes back by taxing away much of infla-
tion's dividends-and a great deal of the victimized
savers' incomes. (Hence the fact that the propor...
tion of income saved was lower in the 1950's than
in the 1920's.)
Another consequence of heavy taxation is the
" c ~ e e p i n g " character of the inflation process, a
novel departure in the sad history of inconvertible
paper money. Heavy taxation takes a great deal
of zest out of the inflation. However, the operating
cost of the government, the greatest buyer of goods
and services, tends to rise faster than its revenues.
In any case, the larger the deluge of paper money,
the higher the taxes to forestall the "gallop" and
to correct alleged or real inequities. The net result
is that people pay more and more taxes in order to
lose each time a fraction "only" of their incomes'
purchasing power.
Whether taxes are negligible or high, there is
at least one similarity between the "gallop" and
the "creep." The one produces trillionaires and
quadrillionaires in untold numbers. The other
causes millionaires to pop up from here and there
-lucky speculators, happy tax-avoiders (evaders),
and ruthless manipulators. The German trillion-
aires were literally wiped out when the currency
was stabilized. As to the bulk of our new rich, it
7
AN INFLATION PRIMER
will be interesting to watch where their millions
of dollars will end up.
WHERE DOES THE INFLATION STAND?
The inflation of the last twenty-odd years is a
matter of record. But are we in danger of having
more of the same? As this book goes to press, the
highest monetary authorities, including the head
of the International Monetary Fund, assure us
that the inflation is over. (Have we not heard that
before?) Vested interests in and out of Congress
actually tell us that "deflation" is what we are up
against. Of course, it all depends on what one
means by such words as inflation and deflation.
What matters is the present and prospective
behavior of the cost of living. In the twelve months
ending June 30, 1960, the cost of living went up
again by about 2 per cent. Industry's labor costs
keep rising even faster; at that, some of the recent
wage boosts have not yet produced their induction
effects on prices. Few experts doubt that the wage
level is still directed upward, or that such develop-
ment would have no effect sooner or later on the
cost of living. And the decisive indicator is the
money supply, the number of dollars available
for purchases. It has been rising year after year,
boom or recession, at an average rate of 6 per cent
or higher. The most imaginative statisticians do
not figure on much more'than 2 per cent average
annual increase in the physical volume of salable
8
INFLATION'S SYNDROME
goods and services. The disproportion is patent,
and this is responsible for the prospect of future
'price inflation.
Year
1929 .
1945 .
1955 .
Money Supply*
(billions)
$ 55.8
150.8
216.6
Year
1957 .
1958 .
1959 ' .
Money Supply
(billions)
$227.7
242.6
246.6
·Cash in circulation plus net demand and savings deposits.
9
II
THE "MODUS OPERANDI"
OF INFLATION
Money originates in one of two ways. One way
is by depositing gold, the value of which is credited
to the depositor on a bank account. However, the
bulk of the nation's "purchasing power" stems
from credit extended by banks,! be it by loaning
funds or by purchasing securities (bonds).
PRODUCTIVE CREDIT-MONETIZING
REAL PURCHASING POWER
As an illustration, let us take a simple case: A
New Orleans merchant sells $100,000 worth of
cotton to a mill in Manchester, England. The
buyer, whose credit is guaranteed by an English
bank, promises to pay as soon as the consignment
arrives. The seller needs money right away and
borrows from his local bank by discounting the
bill signed by the buyer. His deposit account is
credited with, say, $75,000. Presently, he may
draw checks on the new deposit. Apparently, $75,-
000 had been "created" by a stroke of the pen, as
it were. Add all similar transactions occurring at
about the same time, and a great deal of purchas-
10
THE "MODUS OPERANDI" OF INFLATION
ing power is being put in circulation: Should that
not cause a rise in prices?
Nothing of the sort will happen through this
type of The new credit does not
generate inflationary expectations; it is of the
self-liquidating kind; the backflow in 90 days is
assured, and the deposit will ·be wiped out. Ac-
tually, as it is being granted, a maturing loan may
be ·paid The total money supply need not
be affected at all, or for a very short time
Even if it is affected, the additional dollar balance
is matched, value for value, by the actual sale of
new The credit is noninflationary be-
cause it has grown out of an honest-to-goodness
. business transaction.
The bank did not. really create purchasing
power; the bales of.cotton sold were the real pur-
chasing power that was not available at once to
the seller. What the bank did was monetize in
advance a commercial claim-to provide tempo-
rarily the money that was forthcoming anyway,
and not much later either.
Note that the debtor had been credited with
only 75 per cent of the sale's value; he, or someone
for him, had to put up the rest. Someone had to
risk $25,000 to make the transaction creditworthy.
That alone limits the expansion of the money vol-
ume for such deals. And the number of such deals
is limited for other reasons. The debtor himself
must be creditworthy; often, shipping documents
11
AN INFLATION PRIMER
are required. The bank has to be convinced that
a genuine, productive deal had been consum-
mated, .in which all concerned are beyond doubt,
including the buyer on the other side or his
banker who guarantees for him.
These qualitative controls) exercised by the pru-
dent banker, mean an "invisible" quantitative
restraint that is essential in maintaining a balance
between the increase of loans (and deposits) and
the growth of marketable output.
INFLATIONARY MONETIZATION
Now, suppose that the government borrows
from the bank ona three-month treasury bill.
Superficially, no difference exists between the two
cases; in fact, the government's credit is better
than the merchant's credit. Buying "short treas-
uries" is a very convenient transaction, involving
no problem of qualitative control. It does not take
an experienced, "prudent" banker to do this sort
of business. But there is a world of monetary dif-
ference. The government is supposed to repay the
short-term loan out of tax revenues. If it did, in-
flation would not occur any more than in the case
of a commercial loan. Unfortunately, this is not
the case. The government is in debt at the banks
and may stay in debt (unless the public buys the
short-term debt certificates from the banks, which
it does for temporary holding only).
One-half the marketable national debt is bor-
12
THE "MODUS OPERANDI" OF INFLATION
rowed from the banking system, including the
federal reserve banks. The latter's bond portfolio
has increased almost l20-fold in less than thirty
years and is now (September, 1960) much larger
than the gold reserve: nearly $27 billion the one,
under $19 billion the other. Contrary to the ori-
ginal statutes that restricted its operations mainly
to the rediscounting of short-te.rm commercial
paper, the Federal Reserve System now carries vir-
tually no commercial paper at all. The central
bank, the last resort of the credit system, is in all
but name a holding company for public securities.
By far the greater part (six-sevenths) of the mass
of public debt owed to the banking system is of
more than one-year maturity, not "short" even in
name. Short or long, the b9nds are being held
by institutions which paid for them by creating
spendable funds, with no counterpart in purchas-
able goods. The government acquires deposits,
representing the monetization of sheer "paper,"
and uses them to pay its deficit. The purchasing
power thus put in circulation stays there. It has
to; it did not grow out of commercial transactions
that would provide for the money's backflow. Nor
has. it a counterpart in tax· revenues. Instead of
liquidating its debt to the banks, the government
keeps rolling it over and borrows additionally
from time to time. And the money issued by the
banks keeps turning around. Not one of every
hundred dollars borrowed by the government-
13
AN INFLATION PRIMER
whether it was used to stockpile unsalable farm
products or to finance global give-away programs
-has added anything to the nation's stock of pro-
ductive, self-regenerating capital.
Small wonder that prices have doubled-more
than doubled, on the average-since 1939. If they
did not rise more, it is chiefly because of the great
progress achieved by business in reducing costs by
technological and organizational economies.
LIQUIDITY-BY INFLATION
As a matter of bookkeeping, the Federal Re-
serve System is a part of our banking system. In
essence, it is much more than just another bank.
It is the central organ of the entire credit struc-
ture. The fundamental import of its function may
be shown by reverting to our earlier illustration,
the New Orleans bank that loaned money on a
cotton transaction.
On top of all the "inhibitions," or qualitative
controls, that limit the individual bank's loaning
propensity, there is one more that should be men-
tioned: the necessity for the banker to keep his
house "liquid." This is his legal and moral duty,
as one entrusted with the public's money. The
deposits, even the savings, have to be paid out
whenever the depositors draw checks or ask for
cash. Obviously, if the bank is not to be closed,
it must have enough cash resources available to
fulfill such drains as may reasonably be expected.
14
THE "MODUS OPERANDI" OF INFLATION
The law requires that the member banks keep
a fraction of their liabilities deposited at a federal
reserve bank as a primary reserve. Sheer prudence
requires that another fraction should be kept in
the form of assets that can be turned quickly into
cash. These "quick assets" are the banker's sec-
ondary line of defense. In our system, as it has
operated since 1933, this secondary liquidity con-
sists essentially of treasury obligations.
The point is that credit expansion of. com-
mercial banks is limited by liquidity considera-
tions. Since the law requires (on the average) 10
per cent of the bank's liabilities to be held in
','cash," and prudence requires at least another.
30 per cent to be readily available in the shape of
"short treasuries," the bank's ability to create
purchasing power is trimmed
So far, so good. The rub is that these reserves
are literally produced by the.Federal Reserve Sys-
tem. It has the power to do SO,2 and it makes ample
use of this power. That is the difference between
the rank and file of banks on the one hand·and the
central bank on the other. Both create purchasing
power, but the former would soon be stymied
(except for gold inflow) if the latter did not pro-
vide the ultimate means of payment which keep
the deposits convertible into cash and the banks
from going broke. Thereby, the credit expansion,
whether sound or not, is being kept going.
15
AN INFLATION PRIMER
THE CENTRAL ENGINE OF INFLATION
Technically, the Federal Reserve has three
direct methods by which to provide the banks
with "liquidity," enabling them to extend credit
to the economy. It "rediscounts" (buys) such
short-term commercial paper as the banks may
offer, if they have any to offer. It makes "advances"
to them, usually using government obligations as
collateral. Or it buys federal securities, mostly of
the short-term variety, in the open market, the
proceeds being credited to the bank account of
the dealer who sold the obligations. In any case,
the banks acquire balances at a federal reserve
bank and their worries over cash reserve require-
ments are over (for the time being) .
In the process, the Reserve System accomplishes
something else that goes far beyond its proper
function and begets a nefarious inflationary drift.
Indirectly, the Federal Reserve provides the mem-
ber banks with their "secondary" reserves as well.
It does so by creating a safe and secure market for
public securities, U.S. Treasury bills, certificates,
and notes, in particular. Within that one-year
maturity range alone, there are some $70 billion
available. (Another $115 billion in up to ten-year
maturities are virtually supported, too.) Thereby,
these securities become equivalent to cash. Their
monetization by the banks and re-monetization by
the Reserve System is the hard core of the process
16
THE "MODUS OPERANDI" OF INFLATION
by which the currency.is being diluted-and the
door opened for nefarious manipulations. Espe-
cially, the politicians' "freedom" to run the
federal budget into deficits is greatly enhanced
when nothing more serious seems to be at stake
than throwing a few billions of additional "short
treasuries" on the market.
1. "Banks" include commercial and mutual savings institu-
tions as well as the Federal Reserve System. The savings and
loan associations are. savings banks, too, but in the statistics
they do not appear among the banks.
2. The sole legal limitation of that power is a 25 per cent
gold (certificate) reserve requirement against the Federal Re-
serve System's own notes and deposits. But at this writing, it
still might go to the length of some $28 billion of new legal
money before reaching that limit-which the Congress then
might lower again, as it did in 1945.
17
III
THE FOUNTAINHEADS
OF INFLATION
THE MONEY-PRINTING AUTOMAT
The Federal Reserve System is wrapped in for-
bidding technicalities and regulations. Yet the
principles of its operation are so simple as to be
within easy reach of the average person who wishes
to understand them.
Neither the Federal Reserve System (and its
organ, the Open Market Committee) nor the
twelve reserve banks are banks in the common
sense of the word, as mentioned before. Profit is
not their objective; most of the money they earn
goes to the Treasury. They take no deposits from
an ·individual or .an ordinary business firm, ·and
give very few of them loans. Together, they con-
stitute the central bank of the nation, dealing
chiefly with the member banks; with the U.S.
Treasury; with the governments or central banks
of foreign countries, and, for the purchase and
sale of federal obligations, with selected security
dealers.
With this position as a central bank goes the
monopoly of issuing legal tender-bank notes.
The federal reserve banks have the privilege of
18
THE FOUNTAINHEADS OF INFLATION
makingthe money with which to pay for their own
liabilities. The liabilities are created by the mem-
ber bank borrowing on a treasury bill or similar
security and drawing out a dollar note or a dollar
balance, as it chooses. The note goes into circula-
tion; the balance becomes the reserve. on which
the member bank "pyramids" its own deposit
liabilities. (The nonmembers use as their reserves
mostly balances held at member institutions.)
The process is further simplified if the Federal
Reserve, instead of w ~ i t i n g for the member banks
to ask for money, pr6ceeds on its own by buying
treasury paper on the open market in order to ease
the money market and to lower the interest rates.
Or conversely, it may sell treasury obligations to
tighten the market and to "up" the rates.
All of which is as it should be. But the portfolio
of the Reserve System is bulging with treasury
securities in lieu of commercial paper. Treasury
securities are the documentary evidence of federal
deficits, past and present. Their bulk stems from
the last war. The Treasury does not have to run
fresh deficits every year (as it did in the fiscal year
1958-59 to the tune of a peacetime record $12.4
billion). Of its shortest term marketable debt,
maturing within one year, $53 billion were at this
writing in commercial banks, savings institutions,
and other private portfolios. Theoretically, at
least $53 billion worth of short paper could still
be turned into legal tender! Nothing of the sort
19
AN INFLATION PRIMER
would be possible if the central bank would stick
to its function, as was originally intended, and
monetize only credit instruments which represent
genuinely commercial, productive transactions of
the self-liquidating type.
No inflation of runaway dimensions is to be
expected (as yet); but the monetization of the
public debt does not have to go anywhere near the
theoretical limit in order to permit a fresh out-
break of price boosts. Assuming an average re-
serve ratio of one to six, the monetization of $1
billion permits an additional credit expansion of
$6 billion, or so. And the flood can rise even with-
out further debt monetization by the central bank,
which has additional powers available to make or
to break the inflation-by changing the member
banks' reserve requirements.
MANAGED MONEY-THE ONE-WAY ROAD
The member banks, to repeat, must cover their
MEMBER BANK RESERVE REQUIREMENTS
Percentage of
Percentage
Net Demand Deposits *
of Time
(Savings)
Central Reserve Deposits, All
reserve city Country Member
city banks t banks banks Banks
Maximum...... 26 20 14 6
Minimum....... 13 10 7 3
Actual,
Aug. 1, 1960... 18.0 16.5 11 5
-Demand deposits minus cash items in process of collection and
demand balances due from domestic banks.
t New York and Chicago.
20
THE FOUNTAINHEADS OF INFLATION
deposits by holding a fraction of. them in balances
at their respective reserve banks. But what frac-
tion? This, the pertinent question, is answered in
the accompanying table.
Note the broad range of discretionary power in
the hands of the managers (who may be under the
thumbs of the politicians). Within the broad legal
limits, they can cut the reserve requirements or
raise them. This is called an "elastic currency."
In June, 1954, to overcome a mild recession (and
to strengthen Mr. Eisenhower's chances come No-
vember), the Board of Governors lowered the
banks' reserve requirements, boosting their lend-
ing capacity by a hefty $9 billion. This helped to
bring about an unprecedented borrowing boom,
but the bank reserves were not restored to their
previous levels. The performance of the Board
was repeated on the eve of the next presidential
election: by September, 1960, the member banks'
lending capacity was boosted by another $3.6 bil-
lion.
This sort of elasticity pervades the whole mone-
tary system. Under the gold standard the mini-
mum gold reserve against the central banks'
liabilities was permanently fixed. It used to be
mandatory for the Federal Reserve to hold gold
equal to at least 40 per cent of its outstanding
notes and 35 per cent of its deposit liabilities. The
rule has been relaxed to permit an over-all 25 per
cent minimum and could be relaxed further at the
21
AN INFLATION PRIMER
whim of Congress. The legal ceiling over the
public debt was to be raised in a national emer-
gencyonly. Since 1954 it has been raised four times
in less than six years. No more monetary inhibi-
tions! ·Floors may be lowered and ceilings raised
on short notice.
The power of reducing the legal' reserve re-
quirements is dynamite, one would think. The
Congress thinks otherwise. With the blessing of
the Federal Reserve authorities, it has cut the re-
quirements for the big banks in New York and
Chicago to the level of the reserve city banks, as
of 1962. Also, it permitted the banks to count the
surplus cash in their tills as part of their legal
reserves. This alone adds another 0.5 per cent to
the big banks' potential and an estimated 3 per
cent to that of the ~ m a l l ones. To clinch it all, the
political heat is put on the Federal Reserve Board
to abandon the "bills only" policy-it should buy
long-term bonds as weIll And the Treasury pleads
for the right to sell more than the permissible $5
billion bonds direct to the central bank-to push
them down its throat, as it were.
INFLATION BY "DEBT MANAGEMENT"
On paper, the Reserve System has virtually
every power to maintain monetary discipline and
to stem the. inflation. It is under no legal obliga-
tion to grant credits to the member banks, still
less to buy government bonds. It could skim off
22
THE FOUNTAINHEADS OF INFLATION
the liquidity of the money market and force inter-
est rates upward. The mere refusal to grant credit
to the banks in proportion to the expansion of
their loans may spell the end of an ominous infla-
tionary boom. The March, 1951, gentlemen's
agreem.ent between the Treasury and the Federal
Reserve Board liberated the latter from the self-
assumed war-time obligation to monetize the
national debt, or to hold interest rates down. Ever
since, our central bank has been pursuing, sup-
posedly, a "flexible" policy: it commonly adjusts
its discount rate-the fee it charges on its loans-
to the market rather than forces a rate on the
market. In principle, interest rates may rise or fall
without interference. In actual practice, they are
not permitted to rise, nor bond prices to fall, to a
level that would curb the inflation for any ap-
preciable length of time. The debt monetization
continues, rain or shine, with interruptions few
and far between.
The 1951 agreement between the Treasury and
the Federal Reserve authorities w o u l ~ have made
possible a truly "flexible" policy, had the former
lived up to its implicit part of the deal. There
should have been no more deficits in the budget;
in any case, no major deficit. The Treasury should
also have proceeded to convert a substantial slice
of its short-term debt into longer maturities. It
did nothing of the sort; instead, the volume of
short maturities has been increasing practically
23
AN INFLATION PRIMER
year after year, despite the fact that there were
ample occasions-recessions-when low interest
rates obtained on the capital market and conver-
sion operations would have been perfectly feasible.
There is the crux of the situation. Every stabili-
zation attempt undertaken by the Federal Reserve
authorities is, despite their good intentions, sty-
mied from the outset. They are stymied for the
simple reason that the Reserve System is "a crea-
ture of Congress" that can set down the law. In
any case, the central bank cannot let the credit of
the over-indebted national administration go to
pot, which is what would happen if the "printing
press" would cease to support a prodigal Treasury.
This is called Treasury-Federal-Reserve-co-opera-
tion-in-managing-the-national-debt. What is being
managed is a progressive inflation, imposed by
the Congress. The heads of the Reserve System
have no choice but to serve the fiscal interest, or
resign. The latter they rarely do voluntarily. In-
stead, they. rationalize the inflationary policies
forced upon them into a policy of maintaining an
"orderly market" for federal securities and guaran-
teeing general "stability." "Price stability, with
full employment and continued growth" is the
slogan to which the monetary authorities pay un-
relenting lip service.
How that is accomplished is illustrated by a
recent statement by Mr. William McChesney
Martin, Jr., Chairman of the Board of Governors,
24
THE FOUNTAINHEADS OF INFLATION
before the Joint Economic Committee of Con-
gress. He took pride in the many devices by which
the national currency had been <j.iluted in the first
nine months after the onset of the 1957-58 reces-
SIon:
From late Fall 1957 through April 1958, there were four
reductions in Federal Reserve Bank discount r a t e s ~ from
3Y2 per cent to 1% per cent. Through continuing open
market operations from late Fall of 1957 to early last
Summer, the Reserve System supplied the commercial
banks with some $2 billion of reserve funds. Through
three successive reserve requirement reductions in late
Winter and early Spring of last year, the system released
for the use of member banks about $1.5 billion of their
required reserves.
The total amount of reserve funds supplied by the sys-
tem to commercial banks over the nine months, Novem-
ber 1957--.July 1958, was enough to enable member banks
to reduce their discounts at the Reserve Banks from $800
million to about $100 million, to offset sales of gold to
foreign countries amounting to about $1.5 billion, and
to finance a commercial bank credit expansion of almost
$8 billion. Monetary expansion from February through
July stimulated by this Federal Reserve action was at an
exceptionally rapid rate-at an annual rate of 13 per cent
for all deposits..... (Italics supplied.)
T ~ e peacetime record 13 per cent annual rate
of·bank-deposit expansion coincided with a 16 per
cent ($14 billion) deficit in the national budget.
It was followed by a 12 per cent decline of our gold
stock.
Since mid-1958, the Federal Reserve has taken
some easy steps to drain the "water" from under
the boom, raising security margin requirements
25
AN INFLATION PRIMER
from 60 to 90 per cent, reducing somewhat the
credit it extends, and upping the discount rate
gradually to 4 per cent. But just previously, the
volume of its outstanding credits-the monetary
base on which the inflation is built-had been in-
creased by $2.2 billion in 14 months. That helped
to enlarge the money volume (cash in circulation
and bank deposits) by $14 billion and to rekindle
the inflationary boom.
By 1960, not only did the bill purchasing re-
start, but the discount rate was reduced again to
3 per cent, at a time when the European central
banks were raising their rates. Also, the security
margin requirements were lowered from 90 to
70 per cent and the reserve requirements of the
(over-lent) member banks cut by $605 million,1
as mentioned before.
The Federal Reserve System's freedom of action
is limited for a further reason: it has to contend
with the fact that the national government is a
large-scale operator on the capital market. Its
borrowing, debt rolling-over, and converting
operations impede time and again the policy of
the central bank. Moreover, the Administration
is in the business of lending money and guaran-
teeing credits. In 1958, the total of loans extended
and underwritten amounted to $43 billion. When
one arm of the government tries to restrain reck-
less borrowing by raising the cost and the other
arm promotes such borrowing by providing cheap
26
THE FOUNTAINHEADS OF INFLATION
funds, the result is irresponsibility and sheer con-
fusion.
1. The loans-to-demand deposits ratio of the big New York
banks stood in August, 1960, at 86 per cent, just four per-
centage points below the 1929 high!
27
IV
THE VICIOUS SPIRALS
THE PARABLE OF THE HORSE AND THE TROUGH
The Congress votes expenditures without reve- ,
nues to cover them. The Administration finances
the deficit by issuing IOU's that are the equivalent
of cash. The banks convert many of them into
active purchasing power and draw from the Fed-
eral Reserve System the cash balances for legal
reserves. This house of paper rests on the central
bank's readiness, voluntary or otherwise, to mone-
tize the IOU's which represent no productive ef-
fort, no salable goods, no gold, not even tax reve-
nues-in effect, nothing but promises, not to pay
but to be renewed, with more of the same to come.
Come they do, be it out of the Treasury's fresh
deficits and the exchange of new "shorts" (bills,
certificates, and notes) for longer bonds, coming
to maturity, or out of the accumulated portfolios
of the public. In t h ~ ten months to the end of
April, 1959, the bulky volume of outstanding
marketable short-term treasury paper grew by no
less than $23.6 billion, all but $0.2 billion avail-
able for monetization by the Reserve System.
A continued process of this sort is bound to
bring about a trend of rising prices unless the
28
THE VICIOUS SPIRALS
excess money vanishes into hoarding (which it is
not likely to do). Yet it was many years before the
public showed signs of awakening to the inflation
threat and to the role the money element plays in
it. Even now, a variety of arguments is being
offered to evade the money problem by blaming
the rise of prices on symptoms of the inflation
rather than on the underlying cause. Some
economists still deny that rising prices have any-
thing to do with the quantity of money thrown on
the market. They argue that the funds accumu-
late in the banks, which do not rush to make loans
just because they have the money on hand. There
must be a legitimate demand growing out of real
production to induce the banks to lend. It is one
thing, they say, to lead the horse to water-quite
another thing to make it drink.
One wonders whether the expert who argues
this way has ever taken a horse to the trough. If
he did, just how lorg did it take before the horse
developed a "legitimate" thirst?
The parable does not do to the horse,
which never more water than it currently
needs. But men plan by future prospects, real or
imaginary. A heretofore submarginal demand for
a bank loan beco$.es creditworthy when future
earning prospects brighten-as they may in the
light of a sustained flow of purchasing power in
the channels of tr4de. It may take time, but an
excessive money supply cannot fail to increase the
29
AN INFLATION PRIMER
demand for goods and services except in a depres-
sion, when it is used to liquidate an excessive vol-
ume of private debt.
COST-PUSH INFLATION?
When prices rise, few people take the trouble
to look up the statistical data about debt monetiza-
tion and bank-credit expansion. Still fewer seem
to be aware of the causal relationships. What they
do see is a sequence that has become virtually
fixed: wages jump first, commodity prices limp
behind ·them. Hourly wage rates fell slightly be-
tween 1929 and 1933, whereas the price level took
a 40 per cent beating. But pretty soon both started
to rise, wages leading the procession.
Then, during World War II, prices were
"frozen" by controls, but pay rates could not be
restrained. As the controls were scrapped toward
the end of 1945, inflation· took, within two years, a
30 per cent toll of the dollar's purchasing power
in retail trade, paralleling simultaneous wage
boosts. Ever since, price movements have lagged
behind wage increases, as summarized in the fol-
lowing table.
Notice at once in the table that the data do not
include fringe benefits paid by employers. These
may amount to as much as 20 per cent of the wage
bills, and they too keep mounting.
Of course, costs may have a decisive influence
on prices, and labor is the number-one ingredient
30
THE VICIOUS SPIRALS
of costs. If labor's remuneration goes up faster
than its productivity, prices tend to follow, calling
in turn for compensation by higher wages, and a
vicious cost-price spiral gets under way. But why
do wages rise? There are two stock answers in
(political) circulation. According to the one, pre-
sented largely by union spokesmen, labor merely
claims its share in the rising profits which business
MAJOR PRICE MOVEMENTS AND FACTORY WAGES
SINCE WORLD WAR II-
(Indexes: 1947-49 =100)
Wholesale Prices
Average
Consumer
Industrial
Hourly
Prices
All com-
commodi-
Earnings
modities
ties
(Mfg.)
Postwar inflation
January 1946..... 77.8 69.6 72.1 $1.003
January 1948..... 101.3 104.5 102.0 $1.302
Per cent change... +30.2 +50.2 +41.5 +29.9
"Relative stability"
January 1948..... 101.3 104.5 102.0 $1.302
June 1950........ 101.8 100.2 102.2 $1.453
Per cent change... +0.5
-4.1 +0.2 +11.6
Korean inflation
June 1950........ 101.8 100.2 102.2 $1.453
June 1951. ....... 110.8 115.1 116.2 $1.599
Per cent change .. +8.8 +14.9 +13.7 +10.0
"Relative stability"
June 1951 ........ 110.8 115.1 116.2 $1.59
June 1955........ 114.4 110.3 115.6 $1.87
Per cent change... +3.3
-4.2 -0.5 +17.6
Creeping price rises
June 1955........ 114.4 110.3 115.6 $1.87
June 1958........ 123.7 119.1 125.3 $2.12
Per cent change... +8.1 +8.0 +8.4 +13.4
-Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Labor Statistics.
draws by the upward "administration" of prices
and by the ever rising "productivity" of the work-
31
AN INFLATION PRIMER
ers. According to another school of thought, the
trade-unions enjoy monopoly power and use it
ruthlessly. This supposedly causes the price infla-
tion, which then provokes fresh credit demand, to
be· supported by debt monetization. We start on
this second theory.
The large unions (and some of the small ones)
do have a monopolistic position, though not be-
cause of the right to organize and to bargain on
an industry-wide scale. Whether there is one
union covering the entire steel industry or twenty-
five organizations in as many districts or plants
makes little difference in bargaining power. How
can one forbid unions to co-operate, either in re-
questing identical pay boosts or in going on strike
simultaneously? Where, indeed, should the geo-
graphic or professional lines be drawn to dis-
tinguish the monopolistic from the legitimate kind
of union without being arbitrary and depriving
the workers of their fundamental right to organize
and to protect their legitimate interests?
Industrial conflicts are as old as the modern in-
dustrial system. Wages went up during booms
before there was collective bargaining by unions.
What has distinguished the American labor market
since the New Deal legislation of the 1930's is the
loss by the worker of his right to choose the men
to represent him, or to bargain for himself. Once
a union is recognized by the National Labor
Board as the bargaining agency, the member is,
32
THE VICIOUS SPIRALS
in effect, coerced into accepting a leadership that
may be in the hands of racketeers. In a majority
of states even the "right to work" can be denied
the employee who refuses to join a union and to
pay dues. Hence, a monopolistic position is
achieved, strengthened by resort to the intimida-
tion of nonconforming members, use of strike-
breakers, violence, and mass picketing, extortion
from employers, unfair secondary boycotts, and
corrupt and criminal practices. By their methods
of restraining trade, the unions violate written and
unwritten rules of the free market. Referring to
two of the most powerful unions, a Senate com-
mittee's (minority) report stated in early 1960:
"Corruption, misappropriation of funds, bribery,
extortion and collusion with the underworld has
existed in the V.A.W. as in the Teamsters...."
The unions, it seems, are above the law. And the
law, or its administration, actually protects t h e m ~
1
Yet the monopoly power of the unions is not the
decisive force that drives labor costs in the strato-
spheric direction. Just how high could the general
level of wages-not just in individual industries-
go in the face of consumer resistance to higher
prices, if people's pocketbooks were not replen-
ished again and again by.fresh money shots-in-the-
arm? Patently, the magic circle of higher wages,
higher prices, still higher wages, and so on, would
break at the ultimate hurdle, the consumer's
ability to pay. The trouble is that the total of in-
33
AN INFLATION PRIMER
comes is being artificially maintained and ex-
panded. If consumer incomes falter, the govern-
ment steps in by disbursing funds or guarantees
for public works, public housing, road building,
farm subsidies, commodity stockpiling, foreign
aid, mortgage credits, social security, and many
other welfare objectives. The open and concealed
subsidies, handouts, and "contracyclical" financial
contraptions come out of the government's credit
and the taxpayers' pockets, supplemented and sup-
ported by debt monetization, thus setting bank
credit on the expansion road. That does it:
Rising labor costs are not the ultimate cause of
the inflationary drift. They are a prime transmis-
sion line that connects the money inflation with
the price inflation. The cause lies deeper, in the
political arena where the unions' ultimate re-
sponsibility enters. The unions are the prime
moving and lobbying force behind the official
spending and money-manipulating policies which
result in over-full employment and labor shortage.
When the demand is strong and the supply short,
the price tends to go up. That is what the nation's
strongest pressure group puts over with an un-
canny ability to sublimate its own unenlightened
interest-the union officials', not the workers', in-
terest-into national eminence. It· uses ruthlessly
the vote-commanding power of a superorganiza-
tion, plus the influence provided by the multi-
million dollars of members' dues at the bosses'
34
THE VICIOUS SPIRALS
free disposal. The worker's interest is lower prod-
uct prices, steady employment at good pay, more
savings to finance more work opportunities, all of
which is negated in the long run by union policies.
To be sure, there are other pressure groups-
groups of organized business and farm; veterans;
bureaucrats; special interests in construction,
mining, shipping, and shipbuilding; exporters,
mortgage lenders, educationalists, and a host of
other lobbies--..that pull the inflationary strings for
the benefit of their respective niches in the welfare
stafe (while preaching the gospel of free enter-
prise). A "liberal" intelligentsia contributes its
share in confounding a confused public. (Some
literati still judge industrial capitalism in the light
of the bygone sweatshops or of monopolies predat-
ing the Sherman and Clayton acts.) But organized
labor delivers the strongest, most vocal, and most
aggressive lobbying force on the inflationary side.
BUILT-IN INFLATION
Inflation is being brought about by the com-
bined efforts of pressure groups in and out of the
Congress. Such groups are largely responsible for
current budget deficits as well as for inducing the
central bank to monetize debt and to sustain an
excessive flow of purchasing power-at a cumula-
tive rate averaging 6 per cent or more, double or
treble the rate at which the real output of the na-
tion is growing.
35
AN INFLATION PRIMER
Unions or no unions, boom or recession, wage
costs are bound to rise when the growing money
supply appears on the market place as an artificial-
ly boosted demand for labor's services. Employers'
resistance to union claims is stymied in an eco-
nomic climate saturated with the expectation that
the money tokens are readily forthcoming-if the
consumer will not pay, the government will.
Higher pay (often for less work) and more fringe
benefits in one industry with rising labor pro-
ductivity spreads to others in which no progress
in efficiency obtains. And every rise in costs that
helps to force prices upward becomes embedded
in the price structure by way of comtractural escala-
t o r s ~ automatically adjusting wage rates to each
fractional increase of the cost-of-living index. Nor
is that the only vicious circle set in motion by the
ceaseless or recurrent process of debt monetiza-
tion.
A most significant effect of the wage-price infla-
tion is the temporary incentive for new (mal-) in-
vestments in plant and equipment. Business is
"pushed" into labor-saving devices in order to
economize on labor costs, and it is being "pulled"
into false capacity expansion by the growing de-
mand for products, a consequence of higher
money incomes and of a deceptive prosperity. As
prices climb and the inflationary mentality spreads,
a further motive becomes operative: the urge to
hedge on the inflation. The cumulative effect
36
THE VICIOUS SPIRALS
would be a runaway inflation, if the process were
not interrupted every third year or so by a reces-
sion, with each interruption sharper and more
painful than the last. An overheated economy
burns its bearings, as it were, by running up
against labor and capital shortages and losing its
flexibility, while overexpansion boomerangs in
declining profits.
With jerks and screeches, i n f l ~ t i o n progresses.
Under the cloak of immunity from the penal code,
from the la'"ws of corporation and monopoly
regulation, even from the Constitution's provision
for the individual's liberty to join ,or not to join
private organizations, the unions proceed to drive
the economy toward inflation. But there is a price
to be paid. In the jingle of K. E. Boulding (1951):
We all, or nearly all, consent
If wages rise by ten per cent
It puts a choice before the nation
Of unemployment or inflation.
The choice is not between depression and infla-
tion, as the advocates of 2-5 per cent annual price
increases pretend. The choice is between mone-
tary stability on the one hand, and inflation with
recurrent mass unemployment on the other.
The fiscal and monetary "stabilizers" pre-
scribed by the (unwritten) code of inflation are in
full operation. But the law of supply and demand
asserts itself: 5 per cent of the (overpaid) labor
force stays unemployed in the midst of super-
37
AN INFLATION PRIMER
booms, "liberal" credits, and $135 billion total
public expenditures a year.
1. The 1959 labor legislation somewhat moderates unions'
power, though not essentially. The unions remain in control
of the labor supply, under the cloak of the union shop, and
they are practically exempted from prosecution even for crimi·
nal action. They still can control labor efficiency under the
protection of "work rules,H grievance procedures, etc. State and
local authorities, often even the courts, favor unsavory union
practices.
38
V
RIDING ON THE
INFLATION CREST
SPREADING THE INFLATION
Inflation is a monetary phenomenon pure and
simple. There is no such thing as an inflation by
"wage-push," or by "profit-push." Both are con-
sequences, not ultimate causes. It is not rocking
the boat that makes the storm, but the rocking
helps to sink the boat.
The cause is the excessive volume of credit,
sparked by the debt-monetization practices of the
central bank under the self-assumed function,
since 1938, of "maintaining an orderly market"
for government securities. No such function was
originally intended or written into the statutes
of the Federal Reserve System. It is a pretext and
fancy name to cover up the reality, which is to per-
mit Washington to indulge in fiscal irresponsi-
bility.
To eliminate the last shred of doubt about the
ultimate and effective cause of inflation, consider
the following. In April, 1959, the union of 1,250,-
000 steel workers put up extravagant claims, esti-
mated as a billion dollar "package." Marriner S.
Eccles, former chairman of the Federal Reserve
39
AN INFLATION PRIMER
Board (and a one-time rabid New Dealer) com-
mented: "If all of the other workers of America-
more than 65 million-were to demand and re-
ceive these same benefits, it would add 52 billion
dollars to the cost of goods produced. There would
be nothing 'creeping' about the resulting infla-
tion." And that would not be the end of it; rising
prices would call for further wage-cost increases,
and so on.
The point is that an important wage boost
tends to give the entire wage structure an upward
impetus, and, unless the additional costs are some-
how offset, the price level will tend to rise, too.
1
But where would a majority of entrepreneurs find
the cash with which to pay? They could scarcely
have the money tucked away to add 10 per cent or
more to their labor costs. Nor would the con-
sumers want to deplete their savings or default on
their taxes and debts. The enhanced wages could
not be paid unless the banks came to the rescue of
the public and the central bank to the rescue of
the banks. Short of a substantial shot-in-the-arm,
markets and prices would break and massive un-
employment develop. The history of inflation
offers innumerable cases which show that the most
elaborate and automatic spirals cease to operate as
soon as the credit flow to feed them stops.
The cost-push theory of inflation assumes that
costs are the sole, or main, determining factor of
prices, as if demand had nothing to do with it.
40
RIDING ON THE INFLATION CREST
What about subsidized prices? Surely the unions
are not to be blamed for the fact that in the
country with the world'sgreatest surplus of farm
output-and with official farm stockpiles worth
some $10 billion-basic farm-commodity prices
are up to 50 per cent higher than they are on the
world markets.
THE FALLACY OF BUILT-IN STABILIZERS
The money-printing press is the source of the
wage-push and of all other inflationary phe-
nomena, including the fake devices to protect the
economy against a depression.
Social Security benefits, guaranteed annual
wages, long-term wage agreements, cartelized
(minimum) prices, redeemable savings bonds, and
so on, have been presented to the public as built-in
stabilizers to provide cushions against.a depres-
sion. They.provide nothing of the sort. They are
just some of many pretexts for inflating the cur-
rency. For example, the reserves of the Social
Security program, built up by contributions of
the "insured," consist of government bonds that
would have to be sold-to the banks, presumably.
Guaranteed wages guarantee nothing; they merely
imply that there will be sufficient cash flow forth-
coming to sustain them.
There are, indeed, stabilizers that can stop the
inflation. They are not built in by law or by
policy; they are part and parcel of the free mar-
41
AN INFLATION PRIMER
ket's automatism, and they are very effective, as
shown by the recurrence of recessions which inter-
rupt the spiraling process of inflation. However,
as soon as the cycle goes in reverse, a money out-
pour is let loose and the genuine stabilizers are
swept away.
THE PRODUCTIVITY DEBATE
Coming back to the spiral: time and again the
unions claim that their wage demands need not
affect costs. All they are asking for is more money
for more output, supported by statistics to show
the rising "productivity" of labor. For good
measure, the claim was confirmed by no less an
authority than General Motors Corporation. The
great automobile maker beat the gun by offering
in 1952 an annual productivity wage escalator-a
memorable case for big business co-operating with
a big union at the expense of the public.
There was a byplay, too. GM agreed to the
(compulsory!) union shop, selling its employees'
freedom of choice down the union river.
Output per man-hour or man-day has risen and
keeps rising in many branches of manufacturing.
But the productivity argument is a rationalization
to surround labor's inflation-borne power of coer-
cion with a halo of economic (and ethical?)
sanctity. The trouble is, in the first place, that
wages rise in all industries, whether or not there
is an improvement in efficiency. Barbers, beau-
42'
RIDING ON THE INFLATION CREST
ticians, florists, repair men, house painters, and
morticians get wage boosts with no perceptible
increase of output per man-hour. In fact, "serv-
ices" take a growing share in total employment
and lead in the successive increases of the cost of
living.
2
What is meant by labor productivity? The
number of physical units produced per man-day
or man-shift is a convenient statistical device to
measure efficiency, but it has no more to say about
labor's contribution to the productive process than
has the ratio of energy units used (or of dollars of
capital applied) to the volume of output. If it
takes but one man to do the job of two, it is most
likely because of technological or organizational
progress brought about by fresh capital invest-
ment, new inventions, managerial skill, or better
utilization of resources rather than by any effort
of the workers who attempt to reap the benefits.
The very concept of labor productivity is open
to question. In a plant, is it the average output
of all workers or of the actual machine operators
only that matters? For an industry as a whole,
what does.average productivity mean in the face of
vast differences' among· individual plants? Over a
period of time, ratios between labor input and
product output become irrelevant if qualitative
product improvements occur or if the product
changes altogether. Is physical productivity sig-
nificant, or productivity in terms of dollars? The
43
AN INFLATION PRIMER
pitfalls are legion. Exact measurement is impos-
sible.
LABOR DISINCENTIVES BY INFLATION
The spurious remuneration of labor's "pro-
ductivity" is worlds apart from true incentive
wages. By the latter, the enterpreneur pays for
more or better work accomplishment. By the
former, he buys peace for a while, often paying
more money for less work. In the one case, there
is a distinct relationship between work done and
and payment received. In the other case, labor
is frequently paid for someone else's accomplish-
ment. In the workers' eyes, the credit for their
raise in income goes to the bargaining, if not extort-
ing, union that exploits the inflation-swelled de-
mand for the products, and little or no credit is
given to the capitalist, manager, salesman, or engi-
neer who may be truly responsible for the en-
hanced productivity.
The outcome does not even provide durable
peace between management and labor. Suffice it
to mention that, between 1956 and 1958, wages in
the basic steel industry went up 19 per cent while
eutput per man-hour declined 7 ~ per cent; by
mid-1959, the industry was hit by a nation-wide
strike, the seventh in fourteen years.
More is at stake than wage rates, more also than
fringe benefits. (The latter rise at times faster
than do even the wage bills.) More is at stake than
44
RIDING ON THE INFLATION CREST
disputes and strikes. If costs per unit of output
mount despite huge capital investments in ever
more productive equipment, it is because of a
further reason: the union-sponsored restrictive
practices. Featherbedding, make-work, and simi-
lar devices, reminiscent of the medieval guild sys-
tem, reach extraordinary intensity under creeping
inflation, spreading cost increases throughout the
economy. They amount to providing-on the rail-
roads, especially-permanent jobs at full pay to
men who work productively only part of the time
or not at all. These practices (legalized by the
courts1) frustrate technological progress, the ulti-
mate source of higher wages and lower pricesl
Time and again, this erosion of productivity is
accompanied by slowed-down labor effort, a high
level of labor absenteeism, and an excessive rate of
labor turnover, all typical by-products of over-
full employment.
PRODUCTIVITY AND CAPACITY TO PAY
Wage boosts bear a very tenuous relationship,
if any, to productivity. For the period from 1939
%Increase in %Increase in %Increase in
Average per Hourly Earnings Hourly Earnings
Man-Hour without Fringe plus Fringe
Productivity __B_en_e_fit_s_ Benefits
Basic steel
industry. . . . . . 64 201 211
Railroads.. . . . . . 86 1 8 5 ~ 6 190
All manufactur-
ing industries. . 48.8 214 *
·Complete data not available. In 1956, total fringe benefits paid
by employers amounted to $12.2 billion.
45
AN INFLATION PRIMER
to 1956, the following figures of the Bureau of
Labor Statistics speak clearly.
The union bosses are never at a loss for an an-
swer. Look at real wages-money wages corrected
for changes in the dollar purchasing power-
they say, and you will find that labor productivity
outpaced them. The fact is that when hourly pay
rises at the annual rate of about 5.3 per cent and
per man-hour productivity increases by 2.3 per
cent, the result is a 2.9 per cent net annual increase
of unit labor costs. That is what happened to
American manufacturing over a sixteen-year
period. This is called wage inflation; it ought to
be called: inflation carried on the "wings" of the
unions. The unions not only generate the infla-
tion through political action, but they also carry
the virus and accelerate its spread. Since the
1930's generating, carrying, and accelerating the
inflation seem to be their outstanding func-
tions in the whole industrial world. The tech-
nique is the same almost everywhere: the use of
their inflation-borne, unchecked power to extort
monopolistic results.
If labor's "productivity" does not justify claims
for higher wages. and fringe benefits, then the in-
creased cost of living will do-increased since the
last wage blowup that preceded the price rises. If
that argument is too transparent, the unions still
may fall back on "ability to pay," which means,
in essence, that you have to pay me simply because
46
RIDING ON THE INFLATION CREST
you have, or are supposed to have, enough money
to give me what I want. What if profits decline?
Why, of course, my wages have to be raised in
any case. Heads I win, tails you lose.
1. Actually, wages do not rise in a uniform fashion, nor do
prices. "Those who can raise prices most readily, or increase
wages most effectively, or escalate themselves to a position of
neutrality, get more and more of total income, while the un-
sheltered get less."-Federal Reserve Bank of New York,
Monthly Review, June, 1959.
2. Between 1949 and June, 1958, the average "retail" price
increase was 35.4 per cent for services and 15.9 per cent for
merchandise.
47
VI
THE CONSUMER
(AND TAXPAYER) BE DAMNED
WHO PAYS THE BILL?
Who carries the cost of inflated wages and fringe
benefits, of shorter hours, of two men doing one
man's job, and so on? There are several possibili-
ties. The added cost may be offset by technological
progress and labor-saving devices; it may be
shifted on the consumer by higher prices or lower
quality of goods, or on the taxpayer if the govern-
ment steps in with subsidies; or it may come out
of profits.
Inordinately rising unit labor costs cannot be
offset indefinitely by economies in production and
distribution. Some unions resist stricter work
rules and new equipment. Labor-saving devices
may not be available or may be too expensive,
and the financing difficult. The incentive for their
installation is lacking if the Inanagement realizes
that any economies achieved are bound to call for
fresh wage requests. The result may be fewer jobs
and/or more intensive work requirements. Sooner
or later, labor "pays" by what is called techno-
logical unemployment: higher wages for fewer
workers.
If prices are raised, the cost of higher wages falls
ultimately on the consumer. That includes the
48
THE CONSUMER (AND TAXPAYER) BE DAMNED
workers and their families, of course. As the price
inflation spreads, their dollar gains tend to
evaporate. It may take some time when the infla-
tion is the creeping kind. When it accelerates, the
gain rapidly turns, by all historic evidence, into
a loss of. real income. It should be remembered,
incidentally, that the process of inflating incomes
is in itself expensive. Except in revolutionary
situations, no country has ever lost as many labor-
days, either absolutely or percentagewise, due to
strikes as has the United States in this post-World
'War II era. Strikes mean lost wages; the losses
the employer suffers mean less demand for capital
goods and less employment; shortages caused by
strikes raise the cost of living; and the unions take
a share of the worker's pocketbook, if not of his
freedom.
Suppose the demand for the product is elastic,
that is the consumer refuses to pay the higher price
and the market shrinks. Anthracite is a textbook
example; by extorting ever more wage dollars,
Mr. John L. Lewis raised the unit costs so high
that the consumer turned to substitute fuels. The
industry is dying slowly but surely, and so are the
jobs. Again, labor as a whole sooner or later pays
the bill, partially or fully, for the wage increases.
The e m p l o y ~ r may recoup the increased labor
costs by drawing public subsidies. In that case,
taxes rise. And who pays those, if not the people
engaged in production? There is one way, to the
49
AN INFLATION PRIMER
trade union way of thinking, to get "something
for nothing": by taking the pay raise out of profits.
That is the laborite (and self-styled liberal) battle-
cry: Let the capitalist pay. All arguments of the
unions converge, openly or by innuendo and in-
sinuation, on the contention that as a matter of
equity the "high" profits should be trimmed in
favor of the workers. The idea seems to be always
present in the back of certain minds that wages
could be substantially higher, and without in-
flationary repercussions, if profits were lower-
monopoly profits, in particular.
THE POT CALLS THE KETTLE BLACK
"Monopoly" is a nasty word. It connotes supply
restriction in order to exploit the buyer. Under
the Sherman and Clayton acts it has a legal, or
rather illegal, status. The Department of Justice
seems to be anxious to prosecute every case, real
or alleged. (To do so is "good politics.") No one
but an outright Communist charges American
business in general with illegal conspiracy. How-
ever, economists have invented two novel terms
which carry by innuendo the' same connotation.
Big Business is supposed to enjoy "oligopoly"-
quasi-monopoly exercised by the few-or to "ad-
minister prices." Bigness somehow enables the
largest firms of each industl\Y to co-operate in con-
trolling the respective markets. Proof is, sup-
posedly, that (1) in industries such as steel, auto-
50
THE CONSUMER (AND TAXPAYER) BE DAMNED
mobiles, tobacco, and aluminum, two to four of
the largest corporations control 50 per cent and
more of the output; (2) they sell their wares at
virtually identically fixed prices, following the
"leader"; (3) prices are being "listed" or an-
nounced by the big suppliers.
In reality, there are no ingrained oligopolies or
administered prices on the American scene, except
where the government promotes them. The truth
is that bigness per se provides IJ.O power in the
price-making process; sharpest competition pre-
vails among "leaders." The truth is that without
governmental protection scarcely any industrial
monopoly could carryon clandestinely in the face
of prosecution, consumer resistance, and compe-
tition by substitutes. In fact, it is the government
that limits competition and fosters monopolies by
high tariffs, price supports; stockpiling, military
procurement, subsidized housing, .and many other
policies.
1
The truth is, also, that "administered" list
prices may represent either the outcome of compe-
tition or mere balloons ~ o test the market forces.
2
The truth is, finally-and this is economics on the
(much neglected) undergraduate level-that price
uniformity is an essential characteristic of the
competitive market. Under free competition the
price is set by the cheapest producer whose output
is large enough to affect the supply; the others
must follow the "leader," or lose out.
51
AN INFLATION PRIMER
Monopoly power is the ability of the supplier
to exact a price higher than that prevailing under
competitive conditions. There is such power in
operation, not subject to the antitrust la,vs and
exempt from the provisions of the criminal codes
as well. The big unions have it-often the small
ones, too. They enjoy a monopoly power of a
width, breadth, and intensity the like of which
never before existed in the United States. They
use it ruthlessly" without any concern about the
consumer or even about the future employment
of their own members.
PROFIT INFLATION
Wage increases need not raise prices, union
spokesmen say, if profits were not excessive. What
makes for "high" (pre-tax) profits, one may ask?
The answer is, ironically, that the unions them-
selves are largely responsible.
Time and again, the unions come out for public
spending projects. They are most determined
advocates of public housing and of credit (FHA)
guarantees for private-dwelling construction.
Their political influence, in alliance with the
"construction lobby" of the business interests in-
volved, goes a long way toward putting over what
they advocate. This gives a great boost to the
building industry-and more profits to the firms
engaged in it.
This is one example of many. The unions are
52
THE CONSUMER (AND TAXPAYER) BE DAMNED
most vocal supporters of almost any special (profit)
interest that can be promoted at the expense of the
consumer or the taxpayer.
Some union leaders outdo the exporter, whose
pocketbook is directly affected, in enthusiasm for
our interminable foreign-aid program. They are
motivated, or so they claim, by humanitarian senti-
ment for their fellow man. But no bleeding hearts
inhibit their simultaneous lobbying for higher
tariffs and quotas, which hurt that same foreigner's
exports, in order to secure employment at higher
wages for the union members-and more profits
for the employers.
One would expect organized labor to object to
farm subsidies which are ~ real burden on both the
living costs and the tax bills 'of the urban masses.
(The number of organized farm hands is too small
to be of any weight.) Futile expectation! Greedy
pressure groups may fight each other; they are
brothers under the political skin when it comes to
the common enemy, the general public.
There has been much comment on the lack of
employer resistance against demands for wage
'raises. To a large extent, political pressures have
been to blame. But often, much too often, a
cynical sort of co-operation prevailed in labor..
management disputes. A s t a n d a r ~ bargaining
argument is: Why do you, the employer, object
to raising wages when 52 per cent of the added
cost is deductible from the corporate income tax
53
AN INFLATION PRIMER
and the remaining 48 per cent is easily shifted on
the consumer's income? Let someone else worry
about the fact that the Treasury's revenues may
decline and its expenditures increase.
Above all, by promoting price inflation, the
unions promote the dollar volume of sales; if the
profit margin per unit of turnover remains the
same, or does not fall too much, the gross return
of business-in dollars of declining purchasing
power-cannot go but upward. Actually, margins
did drop in the last decade, but not enough to off-
set the effect of a growing volume of dollar sales.
In any case, it is the inflation of the money supply
that, by distending the demand for consumer and
producer goods, creates the sellers' markets on
which rising costs can be unloaded and profits
maintained, or even increased. A sellers' market
is a short way of saying that "too much money
chases too few goods."
In the course of a price inflation, situations are
bound to arise in which groups of entrepreneurs
and speculators reap extraordinary windfalls. Yet,
considering the decline of the money's purchasing
power and the progressive rate of personal income
taxation, the average real return on shares of
stocks lags far behind real remuneration for the
average labor-hour.
s
Atthat, a large sector of busi-
ness itself does not even layaway enough reserves
to provide for staying in business, still less to ex-
pand it. Insufficient reserves for the replacement
54
THE CONSUMER (AND TAXPAYER) BE DAMNED
of plant and equipment (at inflated prices!) and for
future capital needs is a devastating effect of the
prolonged currency dilution. In other words, we
consume a large fraction of the capital required to
provide a rapidly growing population with the
tools and facilities for its livelihood. (The cost is
$20,900 per worker in the country's largest corpo-
rations, according to an analysis of balance sheets
by the First National City Bank, New York.)
Extraordinary (pre-tax) profits of the riskless
kind, (lower-taxed) capital gains in particular, are
sparked by the inflation. Capital gains remain
largely on paper until either the estate levies or a
depression wipes them out. Government orders
on a cost-plus base often are another rich source of
rewards for no-risk-taking, in violation of the free
market's prime distributive rule. The consequent
deterioration of business standards is a major con-
tributory factor to the degeneration of union prac-
tices. If profits can be earned without incurring
risk, why not wages without doing work?
1. This has been well brought out by Walter Adams 'and
Horace M. Gray in Monopoly in America (New York: The
Macmillan Company, 1955).
2. Allegedly administered prices may be just as flexible, up
and down, as others. "The price on steel bars got changed as
frequently as those on men's suits, wrist watches, and baseball
gloves," reported the First National City Bank, New York
(May, 1959).
3. From 1948 to the end of 1958, wages and salaries (includ-
ing fringe benefits) paid by corporations increased from $90
billion to $158 billion. Corporate (after-tax) profits decreased
from $20 billion to $18 billion a year.
55
VII
THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF
INFLATION
OPPORTUNISM VERSUS PRINCIPLES
The sophisticated reader, if he has followed us
so far, may raise a quizzical question. Our reason-
ing was based on an unproved thesis, he may say.
It was taken for granted that monetary stability is
a categorical imperative of policy. But we have
seen axioms fade out even in geometry. In the age
of relativity and four-dimensional space, doubt
has. evicted dogma, probability has replaced
causality. (Did opportunism oust principle?) On
what relevant grounds, other than an "antiquated"
tradition, do we condemn the apparent historical
trend accepted by a majority of progressive na-
tions?
If ethics is a mere matter of anthropology or psy-
choanalysis, who is to proclaim immutable laws
of economics? Must we revert to the laissez faire
("leave us alone") doctrine that is as obsolete-the
self-styled modernist may continue-as are the
gold standard and the "anarchistic" competition
of the nineteenth century? (To collectivists, com-
petition is always anarchistic or monopolistic.) In
the collectivist gibberish: A dynamic world will
not submit to a rule that has inhibited man-
56
THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION.
kind from seeking to "maximize the welfare of the
many rather than the profits of the few." The gold
standard in particular is the object of resentment
and ridicule because of its "discipline"-the limit
it sets on tinkering with the currency and arbi-
trarily manipulating the credit volume.
As a matter of fact, the apology for inflation is
not so new or so undogmatic as it pretends to be.
Nor is it generally accepted in some backward
countries. Also, the alleged historical law of per-
petual inflation is subject to change on short
notice.
1
So is the inflationary philosophy itself,
despite its scientific pretensions.
Indeed, the fashionable (statist and inflationary)
economics is a reversion to the pre-nineteenth-cen-
tury vintage, only more dogmatic and far more
emotion loaded. A favorite device is to ridicule
the opponents of inflation by charging them with
being laissez faire believers. This implies, very ex-
plicitly, that the only alternative to permanent or
recurrent inflation is to stop economic growth, ac-
cept massive unemployment, and let the unem-
ployed starve· on the streets. If we do not keep
inflating, cost what it may, we shall lose the cold
war or go bolshevist is the proverbial last word
of the dyed-in-the-wool inflationist.
"MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS"
In historical perspective, laissez faire was a re-
action to centuries-long bureaucratic meddling, to
57
AN INFLATION PRIMER
the multitude of oppressive laws and regulations,
and to the crushing monopolies of guilds and
other privileged groups. All of this was enforced
or at least tolerated by the state. Hence, the reac-
tion: "Mr. Government, mind your own busi-
ness." But what is the government's business in
relation to the economy and, especially, to money?
None whatsoever-beyond defense and internal
order-is the literal interpretation of economic
freedom. Such is not our concept of freedom. We
would not let the unemployed starve even if "eco-
nomic rationality" would require it, which it does
not. It is rational to permit wage rates to fall in
order to overcome a depression by adjusting costs
to declining prices; starving the unemployed in
the intervening period, which may last many
months, is quite another thing. Few of us would
agree that the labor of children in early British
factories and of women in the mines was justified
because it speeded up capital accumulation out of
high profits, or that "interventions" such as the
eight-hour day, free grammar schools, and the
graduated income tax smack of bolshevism. Nor is
the rule of the free market an obstacle to welfare
spending by the authorities-the local ones, prefer-
ably-provided the spending does not impair com-
petition, financial stability, or the incentives to
work, is not a pretext for servicing pressure
groups, and is not fraught with corruption.
A prime misunderstanding should be cleared
58
THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION
up at once. \Ve must distinguish the institutional
guidance of the economic process from its collec-
tivist control. Objecting to the normal function
of a central bank, which is to check an excessive
How of bank credit (illiquidity!), is typical of the
pedants' confusion. By the sa:me token, control of
the traffic by a policeman might be objected to as
an abridgment of human rights. Restraining
monopolists is another interference with "free-
dom" that in reality preserves freedom.
The naive leave-us-alone idea enjoyed a meas-
ure of popularity in the nineteenth century and
gave the period an undeserved black eye. At-
tempts in France and Britain tosuppress the labor
unions were instrumental in begetting the socialist
movement. The theory of Marx that capitalism
destroys itself was based on the totally false as-
sumption, spread by the same laissez faire school,
that labor as a group has virtually no chance of
improving its lot. Capitalism might have destroyed
itself had not worldly wisdom prevailed over the
dogmatic misinterpretation of the perfectly sound
doctrine: that the price mechanism of the free
market brings about the most productive alloca-
tion of resources, the lowest possible prices, re-
muneration according to services rendered, and
optimal (best) satisfaction of the consumer at his
free choice. A by-product of free competition is
low profit margins. Inflation, "the most deadly of
all economic diseases," is a royal road to the burial
59
AN INFLATION PRIMER
of these functions and ultimately of economic free..
dom itself.
Unfortunately, the laissez faire (Manchester)
school still has respectable The dis-
service these persons unwittingly render to the
cause of free enterprise and· sound money is a
serious one. The more so, since the zealots of an
obsolete Utopia outdo in their zeal the original.
This is especially true in matters pertaining to
monetary policy.
The "classical" protagonist of undiluted eco-
nomic freedom considered the permanently fixed
price of gold as a number-one pillar and an irrev-
ocable condition of the free market. Some of his
promient (self-appointed) successors would extend
"freedom" to the price of the monetary unit itself.
The gold value of the dollar, they argue, should
fluctuate until it finds its "natural level." Why
not let the length of the yard and the weight of the
ton vary too? There is probably no more effective
tool with which to inflate the monetary base on
which the credit structure rests than tinkering
with the currency's gold content. The same holds
for a once-and-forever devaluation of the dollar,
even if its propagandists, the special interests in
gold mining, pretend that this is the royal road to
"stabilization. "
PERPETUAL PROSPERITY WITHOUT TEARS
It IS deliberately misleading to pin the label
60
THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION
laissez faire on the opponents of inflation; it is just
as unfair to call every vindicator of inflation a com-
munist, though inflation is a "bloodless" tech-
nique to revolutionize the economic system. The
American devotee of progressive debt monetiza-
tion may be sincere in wishing to rescue us from
flllegedly imminent depression. As a rule, he
denies outright that he advocates rising prices and
pooh-poohs the danger. Nay, he claims to be
against both, inflation and "deflation"; he is for
full employment, continued growth, and stable
prices-by promoting inordinately rising wages,
artificially low interest rates, and deficit spending.
The money-counterfeiting propensity takes in-
numerable forms. Economic incantations may
cover up the orators' objectives. Here is a sample
of oratory, delivered by Senator Paul H. Douglas,
leader of the pour-out-cheap-money wing of the
86th Congress (he was on the opposite side eight
years earlier):
"I believe that the American people desire that our
economy meet three tests: providing maximum employ-
ment, an adequate rateo£ growth, and maintaining rela-
tive price stability and preventing both inflation and
deflation."-Congressional Record) March 23, 1959, p.
4357.
Note the vagueness of the terms "maximum,"
"adequate," and "relative." The London Econo-
mist} by no means a believer in laissez faire} com-
mented (August 29, 1959) in a typical English
understatement: "Senator Douglas was once a
61
AN INFLATION PRIMER
prominent economist, but the"life of politics has
dulled his objectivity and diverted his attention."
The object of inflationist wishful thinking is
the centuries-old dream of perpetual prosperity at
no social cost. Money-printing does the trick. But
even dreams have their fashions. At one time,
minting silver was to deliver mankind, meaning
the indebted farmer, from "crucifixion on a cross
of gold." The 1920's developed a refined tech-
nique to keep rolling a reckless speculative mania,
the "eternal prosperity on a high plateau": con-
tinuous credit expansion, in complete disregard
of liquidity requirements.
Since the 1930's the "new economics" of the
brilliant but whimsical J. M. Keynes has dominated
the political scene and much of the academic
teaching. One of his specious ideas was to
monetize (inflate) in the depression and pump the
money out (deflate) when full employment had
been established. The underlying assumptions
were two: that labor will not ask for higher wages
even if prices rose (the unions are not interested in
the cost of living, Keynes asserted), and that the
'inflationary process can be thrown in reverse gear
whenever the money managers decide to do so (as
if they were not only immaculately wise, but also
omnipotent). But it is not possible, least of all in a
relatively free economy, to create artificial employ-
ment by money administrations and not cause
wage and price rises (in some sectors); and it is
62
THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION
most impolitic even to attempt to break a pros..
perity wave by deflating the money volume.
Actually, although the depression faded out
twenty years ago, we are still inflating! The defini-
tions of full employment and of unemployment
are adjusted conveniently to the "needs" of the
pressure groups or are replaced by some arbitrary
rate of growth, measured by a fictitious statistical
standard. The authorities all along the Potomac
have joined the courthouse politicians in solemn
assertions that they can and will pursue the
mutually exclusive objectives of inflation-fed full
employment and maximum production, with
guaranteed price stability thrown into the bargain,
thus talking from both sides of their mouths, like
Arthur T. Hadley's Microwac, the electronic
robot running for the presidency.
THE RATIONALE OF THE CYCLE
Monetary "reformers" of every denomination
were fishing in the troubled waters of the Great
Depression, and they are still at it. Whatever
economic creed they profess, all assume allegedly
incurable shortcomings of "capitalism." It is sup-
posed to be hopelessly exposed to recurrent mass
unemployment, if not to perpetual stagnation.
For one spurious reason or another, the markets
are (supposedly) incapable of restoring their own
equilibrium or even of maintaining it. This is the
fundamental concept of Marxism as well as of
63
AN INFLATION PRIMER
Keynesianism. From there follows the call to col-
lectivize· the whole economy or at least the money
and credit system. The difference is in degree
rather than in substance. The radical departure
and the so-called middle-of-the-road approach have
in common the underlying economic philosophy:
to substitute political fiat for the free functioning
of markets and prices.
The crucial question then is: Why does every
boom bust? The answer of the inflationist is simple
and easy. Prosperity comes to a halt when money
is scarce and credit dear. Accordingly, ample and
cheaper money is the cure. The additional funds,
the unions claim, should preferably go into higher
wages to be spent by the masses, not to be hoarded
or used for conspicuous consumption as the
"capitalists" (allegedly) would do.
But what causes the "money shortage"? It de-
notes a disequilibrium between supply and de-
mand. Creditors and debtors are overextended.
The merchants may have overstocked, expecting
higher prices and/ or more sales. If they are dis-
appointed, must they be supported by credit shots-
in-the-arm? (Why not borrow the parity-price con-
cept of our bankrupt farm policy by setting up an
"ever-normal" general store and donate the sur-
pluses to the backward countries? Moscow could
never match that.) Inventory recessions are the
necessary corrections of inventory booms. The
latter would scarcely amount to 'much if the banks
64
THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION
used proper caution in financing the accumulation
of goods on the shelves. Relaxing credit after the
goods become unsalable would be a clear invita-
tion to the merchants to indulge in more of the
same speculative stockpiling.
What justification is there for profits if the losses
are to be nationalized? Capitalism has no eco-
nomic or moral rationale if it is not what it should
be: a system of risk-bearing, profit-earning and
loss-taking enterprises. Indeed, profits (beyond
managerial pay and interest on capital) are the re-
muneration for incurring the risk of losses.
Or, consider the investment cycles. When steel
mills operate ~ e l l below capacity or when newly
built homes find no buyers, one or both of the
following events have occurred. Steel capacity had
been expanded too far and the final product is
overpriced; too many houses were built at too
high cost. Under stable monetary conditions, the
natural correction will set in; prices (and costs)
will fall until they meet the consumer demand,
and business recovery ensues. Not so, if inflation-
ary stimuli are applied. Construction may con-
tinue, customers or no customers. The "reces-
sion" is overcome, but costs and prices spiral and
the excessive supply grows further, heading for
a real slump.
PROGRESS OR "GROWTH"?
The downward s,vings of the (short) inventory
65
AN INFLATION PRIMER
cycle and especially of the (much longer) invest-
ment cycle fulfill highly significant functions, best
described as of sobering up effect. Parasitic firms
that mushroom on the inflationary swing are elimi-
nated. Bank liquidity is improved. Overexpen-
sion of plants.and inventories is checked. Interest
rates on fixed-value claims decline; the over-
valuation of shares gives way to a recovery of the
bond market. Speculative ventures are trimmed;
rational ·investment standards come into their
right. Labor and managerial efficiency improve
dramatically, with or without new equipment.
Costs per unit of output decline even without
wage rate cuts. But, more often than not, high
salaries are cut. Commodity prices, which have
gone up on the expectation of continued inflation,
soften, as do the unions' wage raise demands.
For illustration, a few headlines chosen at ran-
dom from recent and very mild recessions·will do:
"Businessmen bank on permanent gains from
emergency cost cuts" (September 1958). "Fear of
unemployment brings drop in loafing, job-hop-
ping, tardiness. Coffee breaks are shorter; work
quality improves" (January, 1958). "Worker out-
put on the increase as joblessness grows, firms push
to cut costs ... 20% gain in efficiency follows
layoff. Absenteeism, 'quits' drop" (July, 1949).
"Fighting slump by cutting costs," headlined
the New York ])imes in February, 1958; and the
Wall Street Journal: "Companies save where they
66
THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION
can during the business decline." While profits
flow without much strain, it is only natural to
neglect economies, to take it easy, to enjoy life
and let the expense accounts run amok. When
business turns down, output per worker that was
sagging during the boom turns upward. Product
quality and "service" to the customer improve
spectacularly. These effects are by no means a
matter of labor efforts alone. Of prime importance
is enhanced managerial efficiency. The pressure
of competitive imports spurred the textile mills'
cost-cutting efforts: "On modest equipment
spending they've achieved sharp improvements in
productivity" (Wall Street ] ournal
J
May, 1960).
In fact, widespread misapprehensions notwith-
standing, depressions are times of accelerated
progress. As F. C. Mills, an outstanding statis-
tician, has pointed out, the average increase of per-
man productivity in American industry (ratio of
physical output to man-hour input) was 2 percent
annually over the first half of this century; but two
depression periods of an accelerated increase stood
out-19l8-24 and 1932-41.
2
Actually, during the
Great Depression between 1933 and 1935, manu-
facturing output per man-hour rose 11 per cent,
in spite of much product quality improvement,
the U.S. Department of Labor reports.
Yet, Growth with a capital G is the inflationist
battle cry. Without continuous inflation of the
money volume and of prices, growth is supposed
67
AN INFLATION PRIMER
to stop, stagnation to set in. However, growth-
manship promotes not progress, but just the oppo-
site. Again, Dr. Mills' figures speak for themselves:
Periods of "growth" were characterized by "re-
tardation" in the rate of productivity's increase.
The records of the nineteenth century support
the same thesis. "During that remarkable period
of economic growth from 1873 to 1893, when mate-
rial wealth increased by about 140%, prices de-
creased more than 40%."3 In fact, an artificially
stimulated, rapid "growth" may be accompanied
by a high level of unemployment. In 1937, under
inflationary stimuli, the industrial production in-
dex hit the 1929 record-with eight million unem-
ployed roaming the streets.
It is futile to ignore the sufferings and waste
caused by the depression (as is done by a school
of self-styled libertarians of the laissez faire variety).
Equally futile is it to ignore the fact that every
depression is the outgrowth of the preceding
boom. Had the "recovery" maintained its natural
path of balanced growth., it could have lasted in-
definitely. Monetary stability., combined with
sound fiscal and banking practices, is the prime
condition of economic progress. It is the exag-
geration and unbalancing of the process-over-
expansions, physical and financial, leading to
overemployment and other bottlenecks-that
carry the penalty of a crash.
4
Exactly this state
is what inflation brings about by obstructing
68
THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION
sound entrepreneurial and investment judgments
and whetting the political appetites.
The incessant clamor of the inflationist is that
the gross national product (estimated total spend-
ing) must GROW every ,rear at a fixed rate, be
it 3 per cent, 4 per cent, or 5 per cent, the num-
ber varying according to his whim. There must
be no letdown in the number game, no interrup-
tion, and it makes no difference on what we spend.
The GNP never rises as it did in World Wars I
and II; in the single year 1943 it jumped as much
as 15 per cent, "thanks" to all the spending on
military hardware. (Actually, in 1939 Keynes
offered the British the flippant consolation that
the destruction caused by the war would be to
their benefit, creating employment and income
thereafter.) But no cars and no homes were pro-
duced and shortages were the order of the day.
There was ample statistical growth" but very little
economic progress. The former is a matter of
more money outpour; the latter, of real wealth
creation.
Could it be that the ghost of the oldest of eco-
nomic fallacies haunts the ivory towers of the
academy, confusing money and real wealth, the
lubricant and the source of energy? Or is it merely
a case of economic myopia, the inability to see
the consequences of monetary tympany beyond
the immediate ebullience it evokes? In any event,
the gross falsehood of the growth-at-any-price
69
AN INFLATION PRIMER
philosophy makes one suspect there must be ul-
terior motives behind. it. There are, indeed, as
we shall see.
I. In the past, periods of rising and falling prices alternated.
The British retail price index of basic consumer goods fell by
51 per cent between 1813 and 1893; by 59 per cent between
1920 and 1932. E. H. Phelps Brown and Sheila V. Hopkins,
"Seven Centuries of the Prices of Consumables, Compared with
Builders' Wage-rates," Vol. XXIII, No. 92.
2. F. C. Mills, "The Role of Productivity in Economic
Growth," American Economic May, 1952.
3. R. T. Patterson, in Commercial and Financial Chronicle,
August 20, 1959.
4. About overindebtedness, typical of every rash of specu-
lative mania, see subsequent chapters.
70
VIII
CREEPING INFLATION AND
INTELLECTUAL HONESTY
HOW MUCH IS A LITTLE?
Just how much inflation is a little inflation?
This is the first question to which the proponents
of creeping inflation must give an unequivocal
answer as a matter of intellectual honesty. Their
answers vary within a wide range.
Professor Jacob Viner of Princeton University,
and one of Roosevelt's brain trust, pontificated:
I shall begin to get scared, myself, if the rate at which
prices rise on the average exceeds 10 per cent per annum.
A one per cent increase per month, continuing over a
period of months, in the wholesale price index, if not
justification for hysteria is perhaps justification for alarm;
if not for alarm, then certainly for grave concern.-
Commerce, April, 1941.
One may wonder about the present state of mind
of the eminent economist: scared, hysterical,
alarmed, gravely concerned, or not concerned at
all? But his wartime ruminations should not be
taken too seriously. At that time, the upside-
down economics of J. M. Keynes reigned supreme,
in particular the theory that the saver is the de-
structive villain in the drama of the business
cycle, the spender the constructive benefactor.
71

AN INFLATION PRIMER
Since rising prices penalize the wicked saver and
stimulate the brave spender, it was rather con-
servative to be "concerned" about such a trifle
as a monthly rate of price inflation exceeding one
per cent.
Professor Paul A. Samuelson
1
of Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, author of a widely used
college textbook, in an early edition announced
ex cathedra that 5 per cent is the desirable rate
of annual depreciation of the dollar's purchasing
power. He was down to 2 per cent per year in
the 1958 edition, with no explanation for the
change of heart. At this rate of progress of his
own theory's depreciation, he may land-on the
gold standard.
So far as the public is concerned, the late Har-
vard Professor SumnerH. Slichter was the
prophet of creeping inflation. He seemed to mean
a ·3-5 per cent annual rise of prices. The New
York Times of April 27, 1959, took him to task
for "strange discrepancies between the Professor's
statistics and the conclusions that their author
draws from them," intimating that, h a v ~ n g built
up a clientele by forecasting perpetual inflation,
he had acquired a vested interest in his own fore-
casts. (He propagandized spending and debt-
monetizing policies that would have helped his
forecasts to come true.) Slichter, in the Commer-
cial & Financial Chronicle of July 23, 1959, re-
acted with intellectual somersaults. Instead of
72
CREEPING INFLATIoN
blaming the Federal Reserve for "creating unem-
ployment," as he did only a few months earlier,
he became its defender, putting the blame on the
pressure groups, meaning the farmers and vet-
erans. He still glorified the inflation that did
marvels at the ,modest rate of 8 per cent in nine
years. In other words, less than 1 per cent infla-
tion per annum is sufficient to maintain prosper-
ity, according to Slichter's last turn. We would
not venture to divine the next turn. of his famulus
at Harvard, Professor J. Kenneth Galbraith.
CUTTING THE DOG'S TAIL PIECEMEAL
The answer to the first question, "How much
i ~ a little?" is anyone's guess, and the propagators
of creeping inflation are not even bound by their
own estimates, which have no scientific rationale
whatsoever.
The second question should be equallyembar-
rassing to the creeping inflationist. He posits
some annual percentage rate of the moriey's future
depreciation. Does he mean the same rate each
year? That, of course, would be contrary to all
experience. But a long-term average may be ar-
rived at by a practically infinite number of com-
binations of annual rates. The sameness of the
arithmetical result is no proof of identical eco-
nomic meaning. Annual averages over a· decade
may take us back to the ups and downs of the
old-fashioned boom-and-bust cycle.
73
AN INFLATION PRIMER
Slichter admitted the obvious, namely that
periods of boom alternate with years or months
of recession. But then his creeping inflation boils
down to short cycles of over- and underemploy-
ment, with a long-term bias in favor of higher
prices.
Our third question also implies a test of the
inflationist's intellectual honesty. How long is
the "perpetual" creeping supposed to go on? For
a limited period? Indefinitely? Forever? The
answer, if any, is vague, evasive, noncommittal.
Yet, this is crucial. If there is a reasonable time
limit, the "fun" is spoiled. If there is none, peo-
ple will notice sooner or later what they have to
expect and will hedge against it by rushing to
buy things before the money loses much of its
purchasing power. Would that not turn the
creeping inflation into the runaway or self-in-
flaming kind, a contingency to which our infla-
tionists are opposed tooth and nail? According
to Dr. Slichter, there is no such danger. Experi-
ence shows (to his satisfaction) that people take
a cleverly planned or dosed inflation in stride
and scarcely notice it, like the proverbial dog
that would not suffer if its tail were cut by small
pieces only.
On what assumptions is this diagnosis of human
behavior based? On the ability of economists and
politicians to bamboozle an ignorant public? But
the propagandists themselves, of all people, are
74
CREEPING INFLATION
guilty of making people aware of the inflation.
This is an extraordinary case of a forecaster whose
forecast is doomed by his own efforts. If he con-
vinced many of us that perpetual inflation is in the
cards, we would be anxious to act on that knowl-
edge-to buy, borrow, and speculate on further
rising markets, spelling finis to the slow inflation.
S ~ i c h t e r might have had a better chance of being
proved right if he had stopped tooting his prog-
nostications from the literary housetops.
The unions understood that the dilution of
the currency creates a redundancy of demand.
. Supply cannot catch up at once. A prime limit-
ing factor is the relative shortage of qualified
labor; on that, labor "bargaining" thrives. But ris-
ing wages unleash vicious spirals, which in turn
upset the neat calculations of the planners. Small
wonder that Slichter was growing increasingly
critical about the unions. They were ruining his
balderdash-by acting on his theory of slow in-
flation. Instead of recognizing the effect of his
own mischievious and inconsistent propaganda,
he cried out that the community should not
"tolerate this topsy-turvy system of distribution"
by which "labor exploits capital, science, and en-
gineering. "2
The trouble with planned inflation, slow or
otherwise, is that inflation cannot be planned.
Planners (technocrats) think of running a social
organism as a mechanical contraption. This is a
75
AN INFLATION PRIMER
naive concept of the body economic-of human
nature. By controlling the flow of fuel, one con-
trols the speed of the motor. By regulating the
flow of spendable funds, the planners propose
to control the flow of demand for consumer and
capital goods, and this without serious interrup-
tions. However, the motor does not discount the
future intake of fuel; men do anticipate the forth-
coming action of the monetary authorities if they
know or think they know it in advance with rea-
sonable certainty. This is exactly what slow in-
flation brings about, once the pattern is definitely
established in people's minds.
POWER VERSUS FREEDOM
In a free or relatively free economy inflation
cannot be planned, but a planned economy can-
not operate without inflation. Even the almighty
Soviets live under its constant pressure (inter-
rupted periodically by brutal deflationary meas-
ures). The same is true for the patronage state-
misnamed welfare state-in which maintaining
the national budget and the credit system in a
sound operating condition and conserving the in-
ternal as well as the external stability of the cur-
rency are secondary considerations, at best. Under
the rule of the gold standard, the money supply is
"disciplined." So is the budget, because the Treas-
ury's recourse to the printing press is restrained.
Then, too, the politicians' power to plan or to
76
CREEPING INFLATION
manage the economy and to pour out patronage
is restrained. (The law of corruption: corruption
grows in geometric proportion to the volume of
public expenditures.) Herein lies the crux of the
whole monetary debate. In ultimate analysis, it
boils down to the choice between a free) competi-
tive-market economy and a statist or collectivist
system run by political fiat.
Currency manipulation is not only a charac-
teristic of every collectivist society; it is the safest
and surest way to collectivize every society. "The
issue between individualism and collectivism, be-
tween internationalism and economic national-
ism, is settled when a country has decided what
kind of monetary system it is going to have. If
the government is free to manufacture and mani-
pulate money at will and arbitrarily, then we
cease to have a free society."3
Openly or in disguise, the proponent of col-
lectivist policies starts from the assumption that
the price mechanism fails to perform its essential
functions. (See Chapter VII.) If he does not
negate the free-enterprise system altogether, he
is at any rate highly skeptical about its efficiency
or desirability. That system deprives him of
chances to exercise real power) power over pro-
duction and distribution. Hence, the claim that
the government has to take over where business
allegedly leaves off. Full employment (no-more-
77
AN INFLATION PRIMER
depression) was one patent pretext written into
the statutes, if only in vague wording, as the Em-
ployment Act of 1946. But contracyclical med..
dling turns out to be inflationary, so the next
step is to add insult to injury by requesting that
price stability should also be guaranteed-by the
government. Lately, the public is deluged with
the official and unofficial promotion of growth as
the overriding value to justify more public spend-
ing, taxing, inflating, and meddling.
The theories and techniques change, but the
object is constant: to win many friends and in-
fluence many voters. Short of military victory,
nothing serves the ambitious politician better
than the appeal (in humanitarian lingo, of course)
to the greed of groups with substantial weight at
the polls. Crawling inflation is a very convenient
avenue for the redistribution of incomes and
wealth, a most effective subsidiary to discrim-
inatory taxation, political patronage, governmental
meddling, and outright corruption. Even the
tightrope act of "balancing" the economy between
booms and recessions necessitates a host of incisive
fiscal and monetary maneuvers. And should the
inflation get out of hand, the collectivist stands
ready with price, profit, and wage controls, allo-
cations, rationing, credit controls, foreign-ex-
change barbed wires, and nationalizations. The
greater the calamity brought about by the infla-
tion, the broader the power he is likely to acquire
78
CREEPING INFLATION
to combat the inflation· by "physical" (bureau-
cratic) methods of repression.
MUST WE FOLLOW THE KREMLIN?
A word about the collectivist is appropriate.
He is no Communist, oh no! Frequently, he
claims to be a believer in economic freedom, with
a bit of money management superimposed. But
on some basic points his thinking happens to co-
incide with the Kremlin line. Growth at any
price, his ultimate ideal, is straight out of the
bolshevist horse's mouth. And (changing the
metaphor) he rides that horse for all it is worth.
Russia's propaganda about her progress-meas-
ured in imaginative price data-is being held up
for boundless admiration. Never mind that the
data are notoriously faked, or that the Soviets
know little and care less about their own costs;4
they can always reduce living standards, in addi-
tion to wasting their own and their satellites' re-
sources. The sophomoric notion of a Russia that
lacks the incentives and a rational price system,
the touchstones of efficiency, overtaking us is be-
ing dangled as a· Damocles sword. (If she did,
everyone, including ourselves, would be better
off.) For years, she is supposed to be on the verge
of flooding the world's export markets, although
the dollar volume of her exports to non-Soviet
countries never reaches that of Switzerland or
79
AN INFLATION PRIMER
Sweden. Such irrational propaganda serves also
to justify our foreign-aid outpour.
The Western ("democratic") collectivist and
the Eastern (totalitarian) communist have more
in common than either would care to admit. The
common concept of monetary and credit manipu-
lation is but one expression of an ideology that
is the very opposite of economic freedom-which
means free choice by the consumer. On the free
market, the consumer's vote reigns sovereign in
determining what should be produced. His satis-
faction, the rise of his living standard, is the acid
test of progress. To that, collectivists and com-
munists pay lip service; but their fetish, growth,
is something else. Their emphasis is not on indi-
vidual consumer wants, but on collective "public"
needs. As is well known, the Soviets give primacy
to armaments and capital goods; the average con-
sumer gets a minimum of benefits, with very
limited choice. A superbureaucracy does the
choosing. That is very nearly the idea our statists
are pursuing, with a difference in degree due to
the difference in political climate.
As the pow.ers that be enlarge their grip over
the nation's income and resources, they substi-
tute progressively their own judgments for con-
sumer choices. Inescapably, "welfare" turns into
patronage. The volume of investment, instead
of accommodating itself to available savings, is
subject to inflationary expansion.
5
All this vastly
80
CREEPING INFLATION
enlarges the radius of governmental and pressure-
group action, arbitrarily confounding, or revo-
lutionizing, the distribution of incomes and the
pattern of industrial development. Whether the
rationalization is to overcome the alleged inequities
of capitalism and its inherent "stagnation," to
create more employment, or to promote growth,
the result is to shift the management from the
hands .0£ entrepreneurs, who are responsible to
the verdict of the market, into the arms of tech-
nocrats responsible to politicians, if at all. Even
under the unrealistic assumption that the planners
are incorruptible, mismanagement· is the outcome,
unless they are superhuman and know better what
is good for the consumer than he does himself
and make no major errors in guessing the future
of the markets.
Where the logic of collectivist yearning drifts
is perfectly illustrated by its recent turn against
the "affluent society," meaning the free choice
by the consumer. Leaders of the "liberal" intelli-
gentsia have lately been producing best sellers
purporting to show that we (and the British
cousins) are living too high on the hog, badly
neglecting the poor fellow, the government-who
happens to absorb directly up to 30 per cent of
the national income and who manages or distorts
a great deal more by remote controls, especially
by inflation.
In the forefront of this neocollectivist move-
81
AN INFLATION PRIMER
ment will be found outstanding "liberals" of the
Keynes-Slichter school of inflationism: Harvard
Professor J. Kenneth Galbraith, economist of the
Democrats for Political Action (the brain trust
of the Democratic Party's union-supported left
wing), and his British counterpart, Richard Cross-
man, a spokesman of the Labor Party, or of its
Left. This is not accidental. The inflationist in-
tent is, fundamentally, to stultify the autonomy
of the market and to foster the growth of the
government's power. Sooner or later, the power
motive in the back of the inflationist mind breaks
into the open. It may be through the curtain of
tears shed for the hungry millions in the under-
developed countries (and their socialist planners),
for whose benefit we are to be forced into involun-
tary AUSTERITY, a new catchword for the old
idea of equalizing incomes (downward).
Creeping inflation and galloping socialism are
ideologic brothers under the skin. They comple-
ment each other in the pursuit of unhappiness-
of more regulating. and spending authority for
the government. "Eggheads" may be inflationists,
but collectivists are no dreamers. They know what
they want. Inflation, to them, is not self-purpose;
it is one instrument among others to gain and
hold power. When inflation ceases to make friends,
nay, threatens with popular reaction against the
collectivist trend, yesterday's easy-going inflation-
82
CREEPING INFLATION
ist turns into tomorrow's stern moralist.
1. During the 1960 presidential campaign, he was a top
economic advisor to the Democratic candidate.
2. Virtually in the same breath, Slichter paid tribute to the
unions' excessive wage demands as an "independent cause of
the [1959] recovery."
3. Philip Cortney, in The New York Times
J
December 10,
1949.
4. Even by their own inflated figures (their dairy output
includes the milk consumed by the calves), the Soviets' rate of
growth is declining: from an average annual 14.1 per cent in
1949-53 to 7.7 per cent in 1957-1959. By 1960 it was trailing far
behind that year's 12 per cent industrial output growth in the
European Common Market. Soviet statistics have been de-
flated lately by one of Russia's own top-level economists (New
York Times, September 11, 1960).
5. "A myth of expansion [is] a way of attenuating, by public
intervention, the sterilizing effect of inflation, of excessive tax-
ation, and of the erosion of savings."-Jacques Rueff, outstand-
ing French economist.
83
IX
INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET:'
THE LIABILITIES
PROGRESS BY INFLATION
Statisticians compile data which add up to the
much-revered figure called the national income.
Planners plan by that figure, supposedly, setting
targets for its growth. Many economists and many
more politicians use it as the infallible yardstick
of the nation's progress, wealth, and welfare, To
the inflationists, the growth of the magic figure
is the supreme objective of policy. It has been
rising, indeed, an accomplishment they claim is
made possible, if not actually created, by the brim-
ful money supply. Without that, there would be
Stagnation, with a capital S.
Now, the national income is a somewhat less
than reliible "aggregate." The data
... about the components entering into such aggregates
as national income, volume of production, savings and
investment, etc., are pure "guesstimates," subject to arbi-
trary manipulation. The methods to substitute what
amounts to "very wild guesses" in the place of factual
knowledge are known to the statisticians as "interpolating
between benchmarks, extrapolating from benchmarks,
blowing up sample data, using imputed weights, inserting
trends, applying booster factors...." According to out-
84
INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES
standing British statisticians, "The result (of forecasts
based on national iFlcome statistics) looks about as scien-
tific as Alice's celebrated attempt to play croquet by
hitting a live hedgehog with a flamingo."l
For the sake of argument, let us accept the con-
cept, vague and hazy as it is, at face value. The
gross national income's rate of progress since 1950
has been unusual, averaging some 5 per cent a
year in dollars of depreciating purchasing power.
Translated into "real" income by eliminating the
price-inflation factor, this means a rise of about
3.2 per cent annually, which is roughly the same
average that obtained in the thirty-four-year pe-
riod 1880-1914, under stable money, through
several booms, crises, and depressions. Did we
need the stimuli of managed money, unbalanced
budgets, creeping price inflation, huge arma-
ments, fantastic price props, a cornucopia of do-
mestic and foreign subsidies, and a multitude of
I bureaucratic interventions-all of which involves
a great deal of waste and corruption-to accom-
plish what we have done before without such
shots-in-the-arm?
That is not all. What matters is the per capita
growth rather than the total growth. Per capita,
given the rapid rise of population, the real na-
tional income rises by little more than 1 per
cent a year. Even of this modest increase, a large
portion produces no economIC values. About
85
AN INFLATION PRIMER
one-fourth of the increase originates in ~ i l i t a r y
expenditures, governmental stockpiles of unsal-
able commodities, "unproductive" services of
bureaucrats, and the like. The true (per capita)
growth of goods and services available for the
satisfaction of the consumer or for additions to
the nation's productive capacity may be three-
fourths of 1 per cent per annum, or less, far be-
low the comparable late nineteenth-century rec-
ord. In fact, it is well below the record of the
period 1920-28, a period of stable prices and of
a comparatively slow rate of population growth.
For illustration: in 1958, the average American
family's income is supposed to have "risen" by-
$20, or one-third of 1 per cent, this before taxes.
Such is the much-advertised growth of our na-
tional income, the asset side of creeping inflation's
balance sheet. The liability side is being ignored,
deliberately.
THE LIABILITY SIDE
There is a price to be paid for an artificially
engineered growth. For one thing, with every 1
per cent increase of the national income, our
debts, net after elimination of duplications, grow
by 1.7 per cent. This they did in the 1920's, too.
This "growth" is spectacular, indeed, as shown in
the table on the facing page.
Between 1950 and 1958, the net nonfederal
debt of the American people has risen five times
86
INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES
faster than during the corresponding eight years
of the lusty 1920's. True, in the current period
the dollar's purchasing power has been cut se-
verely, while it was stable in the previous one.
Even if the figures are corrected accordingly, the
rise in the current boom has been proceeding at
a rate almost treble that in the previous great
prosperity.
Note that in the 1920's the net governmental
debt remained stable; the federal government
liquidated (repaid!) as ·much as the state and local
authorities borrowed. ~ n the 1950's, both went
into the red. For everyone-dollar increase of the
total net debt in the twenties, we added seven
dollars in the fifties.
"NET" DEBT OUTSTANDING
(in Billions of Dollars)
End of
Governmental Private
Year
State and Cor- Indi- Total
Federal * local porate vidual t
1921 ...... $ 23.1 $ 6.5 $ 57.0 $ 49.2 $135.8
1925 ...•.. 20.3 10.0 72.7 59.6 162.6
1929 ...... 16.5 13.2 88.9 72.3 190.9
1940 ...... 44.8 16.5 75.6 53.0 189.9
1946 . ~ .... 229.7 13.6 93.5 60.6 397.4
1950 ...... 218.7 20.7 142.1 109.2 490.7
1954 ...... 230.2 33.4 177.5 165.4 606.5
1958 ...... 232.7 50.9 255.7 240.4 779.7
1959 ...... 243.2 55.6 281.7 265.8 846.4
Change:
1921-29 ... -
6.6
+ 6.4 + 31.9 + 23.1 + 55.1
1929-40 ... + 28.3 + 3.3 - 13.3 - 19.3 - 1.0
1940-59 ... +198.4 +39.1 +206.1 +212.8 +656.5
*The tTue federal debt is about $40 billion larger than the "net"
figure. See Chapter X.
tlnc1udes noncorporate enterprises.
87
AN INFLATION PRIMER
The major portion of the funds to finance the
inflation of the personal debt-a credit expansion
that fans the fire under the price level-stems from
the banks and the savings associations. By the
end of 1958 they carried, between them, over 60
per cent of the outstanding mortgage loans on
one- to four-family homes. Directly and by in-
direction, the commercial banks also provide the
bulk of installment credit (up to three years),
this on top of a growing volume of business term
loans (up to ten years!) and "slow" loans to busi-
ness, plus substantial holdings of medium- and
long-term corporate and municipal bonds. The
obvious hazards involved in overloaning them-
selves and in impairing the liquidity of the earn-
ing assets seem to be ignored by a new generation
of bankers. This new generation does not re-
member the depression and is being sold, just
like the fathers were thirty-odd years ago, on the
idea that there never will be another.
BORROWING A LIVING STANDARD
Presently, the most rapidly rising component of
the credit structure is the "individual" debt of
nonfarm households and unincorporated busi-
nesses. This debt grows a great deal faster than
the personal disposable income after deduction of
direct taxes, as shown in the next table.
In 1959, the net addition to the outstanding
personal debt alone (mortgages on one- to four-
88
INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES
family nonfarm residential buildings plus con-
sumer loans) was $19.4 billion, a record. Install-
ment credit ·is currently expanding at the annual
rate .0£ $5.5 billion, or 9 per cent, also a record.
As consumers, we are expected future
income. Evidently, our per-"capita consumption
could not improve even at the modest annual
rate the statistics show if it were not bolstered by
purchases on credit that will limit our future con-
sumption. But for the time being, such purchases
permit a standard of living above the level of
earnIngs.
How long this process of piling up debts in
excess of incomes-and ahead of the rate at which
liquid savings are built up-can continue,. no one
knows. But no one in his right senses would dare
to assert that it can go on indefinitely, or without
serious interruption. Every minor interruption
means a recession; a major one spells depression.
Thus, instabiility is being built into a supposedly
depression-proof economy.
Disposable Net Individual
Personal and Noncorporate
End of Income Gain, Debt Gain,
Year (billions)
%
(billions)
%
1950 ........ $207.7 $108.9
1951 ........ 227.5 10 119.8 9
1952 ........ 238.7 5 135.6 12
1953 ........ 252.5 7 150.4 10
1954 ........ 256.9 2 165.4 9
1955 ........ 274.4 7 190.2 13
1956 ........ 292.9 6 207.5 8
1957 ........ 307.9 5 221.9 6
1958 ........ 316.5 3 239.7 7
1959 ........ 334.6 5 265.1 10
89
AN INFLATION PRIMER
At that, the comparison of total disposable in-
come with the total of personal debt does not give
the right picture. The one is accruing to the
population as a whole; the other is owed by a
section of the population only-surely not by mil-
lionaires. According to a recent Federal Reserve
Board survey, 32 per cent of all "spending units"
(families) had no debt at all; of the indebted 68
per cent, two-fifths were obligated both ways, by
consumer loans as well as by mortgages. The eco-
nomic visionaries who dream of eternal prosper-
ity, or of perpetual creeping inflation which is
the same mirage, derive satisfaction from the fact
that not all families are burdened with personal
debts. In reality, this is very ominous. It means
that, for a majority, the annual increase of the
debt is outpacing the annual growth of disposable
income. What will be the proportion, say, five or
ten years hence, if the inflation "creeps" that
long?
The debt obsession, induced by the excessive
money supply and nurtured by an inflationary
psychology, produces paradoxical phenomena. In
1959, personal debt creation proceeded apace de-
spite the steel strike. After three months without
visible income, the credit of the striking steel-
workers seemed better than ever. In Gary, the
local businesses offered the steelworkers almost
everything, from socks and pants to furniture and
videos-at no down payment. Just take the goods
90
INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES
and sign a piece of paper; the paper was eligible
as collateral for a bank loan. The disproportion
between current production and current con-
sumption is highlighted by this example of un-
employed labor maintaining its spending habits
in anticipation of a wage increase. But it would
take decades for any increase to make up for the
wages lost during the strike, let alone the install-
ments on the new debts, with 10 per cent annual
interest charge in the "bargain."
Nothing wrong with buying homes on credit,
with ever less down payments needed and ever
more interest charged for stretched-out periods,
the dreamers argue (in waking hours). The fam-
ilies merely pay for mortgages, plus upkeep and
tax, what they would otherwise have paid for
rent. Maybe so, in some cases, but for a majority,
it takes an irresponsible optimism to ignore the
pitfalls. Construction cost per dwelling unit tends
to decrease with the number of dwellings under
one roof, and so does the rent. Home ownership
may be desirable for many reasons, but it can be
a serious opstacle t the worker-owner's mobility
and earning power or to his ability to adapt him-
self to changing co ditions.
Again, the probl m is not so much the present
size of the home-m rtgage debt; the problem is-
where do we go f am here? Can people afford,
and how much lo ger can they afford, to mort-
gage themselves at he annual rate of $10 billion
91
AN INFLATION PRIMER
to $15 billion far in advance of the growth of their
incomes? What of the creditors, if anything
should go wrong? Nothing to worry about, take
the word of N. H. Jacoby, a former member of
the President's Council of Economic Advisors:
While home mortgage and consumer debt has quintupled
since 1946, we must recall that family incomes, assets, and
equities in homes have grown proportionately. Sixty per
cent of American families live in homes they own, and
half of these homes are free of mortgage debt. Moreover,
nearly 40 per cent of all home mortgage loans are VA-
guaranteed or FHA-insured-55 billion of the 114 billion
outstanding. With currently low default and delinquency
ratios on mortgage debt, there appears to be no danger
in this quarter. [Italics ours.]-Commercial and Financial
October 8, 1959.
There is "no danger" of future defaults because
there are no defaults now, while the money is
pouring out of the banking system and confidence
(in coming inflation) is unshaken. Such irresist-
ible logic is typical of the economic tranquilizers
produced by thinking in "aggregates." Of course,
the "aggregate" volume of mortgages may never
go in default, but the story may be different for
those mortgages incurred at high cost in purchas-
ing speculatively overvalued properties.
2
As it is,
banks and savings institutions rarely find the
names of their home-mortgage debtors on the
ledgers of. their savings accounts.
The ultimate tranquilizer is: falling back on
Uncle Sam. He insures or guarantees, as just
92
INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES
quoted, $55 billion of $144 billion outstanding
home-mortgage loans. That still leaves $90 bil-
lion unprotected, even if the U.S. Treasury, hope-
lessly entangled in its debt problems, should be
able to take care of additional billions worth of
bonds with which to satisfy the mortgage creditors.
These additional bonds would be either thrown
on an overloaded capital market or monetized
by the banks. By that time, a "new" kind of
creeping inflation may be under way, one accom-
panied by stagnation.
Of course, the American economy has grown
"larger" and richer in a generation's lifetime; it
can take (swallow?) more ~ e b t s . But it has not
grown three times larger; it did not even double
in productive capacity. Still less can its further
growth keep up with the accelerating growth of
the debt.
Needless to say, crises and panics do not require
that all debtors go bankrupt. The bankruptcy of
a modest fraction does it. At present, far more
than a modest fraction of consumers is better than
knee-deep in debts,S and going ever deeper.
"Grow,th" of this kind surely may raise living
standards now; just as surely, someone's living
standards may have to suffer later. Indeed, auster-
ity-restraint in consumption-is what some in-
flationists advocate already.
Fortunately, the market forces, if permitted to
operate, tend to bring about an automatic correc-
93
AN INFLATION PRIMER
tion of the borrowing and spending excesses. The
expansion of personal loans is a significant factor
in tightening the banks' lending capacity and rais-
ing the interest rates. This puts a damper on the
supply of credit, provided the Federal Reserve
goes slowly with its anticyclical medicaments to
rehabilitate the organized recklessness.
Business corporations and local authorities con-
tribute their share to the debt inflation. Between
1930 and 1959, the short-term debt of nonfinancial
corporations other than railroads has quadrupled,
and their long-term debt has more than trebled.
Probably some 15 per cent of the latter is due
annually. Interest charges did not rise propor-
tionately, thanks to lower rates and to the tax-
deductibility feature; but the profit margin per
sales dollar declined, too, in the 1950's, and the
tax collector takes 52 per cent of the net. So, the
debt burden of corporations) relative to their net
(after taxes), has greatly increased and their expan-
sion potential has been curtailed, to say nothing
of the impending threat of illiquidity.
That this process is not fraught with, very
serious hazards can be believed only by those who
have taken out a patent on eternal prosperity, a
world in which debts are o,ved to one's own
"pockeL"
"PEOPLE'S CAPITALISM"
Specious fruits grow on the tree of creeping
94
INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES
inflation. One of them is being hailed as "people's
capitalism," meaning the fantastic proliferation of
stockholders in and out of investment trusts. In-
vestment trusts play the market with billions of
dollars, most of it put up by people who have no
business risking their modest savings in ventures
of which they know nothing. It is the lusty 1920's
allover again, with the same ruthless techniques
in exploiting ignorance and greed .and the same
breed of "financiers" pocketing untold fortunes.
The latter plead perfect innocence, of course.
What's wrong with getting rich? Nothing, pro-
vided the deal is not unfairly "loaded" and the
customer does not get hurt when the day of
"reckoning" (in sensible price-earning ratios)
arises. A chief source of the anticapitalistic senti-
ment of the 1930's, to which we owe the New Deal
and the welfare state, was exactly the same "in-
nocent" practice. When millions of people lose
their money on gambling, on which they were sold
as if it were legitimate business, they turn against
the whole system that supplied the gambling
chances, and t h ~ money cranks have a heyday.
This is differ4nt from the 1920's, the salesmen
of sloth assure U$. Then, people gambled on bor-
I .
rowed money; then the market fell, they were
wiped out. NotI1ing of the sort is threatening now
when all they m}ght lose in a crash (which never,
never will happqn again) is their own savings (as
if that w ~ u l d bake them feel much better).
95
AN INFLATION PRIMER
Margin requirements, reduced from 90 to 70 per
cent, virtually prohibit speculative excesses. Look
at the figures of brokers' loans: they are a mere
fraction of what they were in 1929, compared with
the dollar volume of stock-exchange transactions
then and now. Moreover, the public cannot be
deceived any more, thanks to strict controls by the
Securities and Exchange Commission, several na-
tional and fifty state agencies, and the stock ex-
_changes themselves.
Most of this belongs in the category of "eye
wash." The authorities may check palpable fraud
but have no power over intangible, possibly
bona fide, mal-persuasion. A vast volume of shares,
quoted on the over-the-counter market, are not
even subject to margin requirements. As for the
margin borrower, he gives written assurance to
the banker that he is not using the credit for pur..
chasing or holding securities, but there is no con-
trol, no effective penalty on circumventing the
law.
And- debt subterfuges are being concocted. The
worker at the bench and the farmer in the barn
are being parleyed into signing up for ten years
or longer on fixed-sum annual plans to purchase
investment-trust certificates. They can cancel the
plan, but the cost of doing so is prohibitive. In all
but name, the buyer incurs a debt that is not regis-
tered in the statistics of debts.
Easy money "eases" the moral fiber of society.
96
INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES
When government housekeeping is oblivious of
the rules of economy, private households are
strongly tempted to follow the same pattern.
When acquiring wealth becomes a matter of
gambling and politicking, as it does in the infla-
tion morass, real values are likely to suffer. Wit-
ness the proliferation of criminality, embezzle-
ment, and tax evasion, symptoms of the disease
that has its prime roots in monetary and fiscal
policies. The··drawn-out depreciation of the cur-
rency's purchasing power cannot fail to affect
standards other than the monetary alone.
Inflation, and the spirit which nourishes it and accepts it,
is merely the monetary aspect of th<:t general decay of law
and of respect for law. It requires np special astuteness to
realize that the vanishing respect fot property is very inti-
mately related to the numbing of r e ~ p e c t for the integrity
of money and its value. In fact, laxity about property
and laxity about money are very closely bound up to-
gether; in both cases what is firm, durable, earned, se-
cured, and designed for continuity gives place to what is
fragile, fugitive, fleeting, unsure, and ephemeral. And
that is not the kind of foundation on which the free
society can long remain standing.-Professor Wilhelm
Roepke, Geneva, Switzerland.
1. From this writer's book, Managed Money at the Cross-
roads (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press,
1958), pp. 136-7.
2. Too often, twenty- and thirty-year mortgages finance
homes that may have to be rebuilt in fifteen years.
3. According to a 1960 Federal Reserve survey, "Close to
20% of all spending units were devoting 20% or more of their
disposable income to installment payments." But a good deal
of the "disposable" income is not disposable at all.
97
X
THE BURDEN OF THE
NATIONAL DEBT
IS IT A BURDEN ON THE NATION?
It is not, provided it is being held domestically,
proclaimed President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
"One pocket owes it to the other." (Debt owed to
foreigners is considered as belonging in another
chapter.) Since the public debt is no debt in the
common meaning of the term, it need not be and
virtually never has been repaid, according to the
managed-money and creeping-inflation advocates.
We should learn to live with the mammoth debt
and accept the alleged necessity of its further
growth. Let us go on accumulating budget deficits
whenever "needed." Consider the size of the pile
as irrelevant. As a Harvard professor announced
it not long ago: it makes no difference whether
the federal debt is $300 billion [nine zeros] or
$300 trillion [twelve zeros]. Why, far from being
a national liability in a meaningful sense, it might
be considered as a wealth-creating asset. How
could one enjoy all the "blessings" of currency..
diluting if it were not for the debt and its recur-
rent monetization? How would we overcome de-
pressions (in the midst of booms), maintain full
98
THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT
employment, and spend ourselves into ever
greater richness? He who believes in inflation as a
panacea for curing social ills, or even as a necessary
evil, must justify the existence and growth of the
overextended national debt.
But the principle of "one pocket owes it to the
other" applies to a communistic society only.
When everything belongs to the state, all liabili-
ties are a matter of mere bookkeeping. Conversely,
he who denies that the debt is more than a book-
keeping item, wittingly or unwittingly, negates the
system of private property. Under that system,
the "pockets" of creditors are distinctly separate
from those of debtors. A gain of the one is no
compenscftion for a loss to the other.
Yet, the "two-pockets" principle asserts that, in
contrast to private debts, servicing the public debt
merely means a transfer of income from one group
to the other. Real resources are not affected. "The
fact that the government owes its citizens certain
sums is not really a burden on the natIon as a
whole," asserted The Economist (London) of
November 21, 1959. That would be true if a 100
per cent tax were levied on income derived from
federal securities. Of course, no one would buy
the bonds, except the Federal Reserve that de-
livers to the Treasury practically all earnings on
its huge portfolio.
Presently, the American taxpayer is burdened
with $9 billion a year for interest on the $290
99
AN INFLATION PRIMER
billion debt, nearly twelve cents of every dollar of
federal revenue. Are we to believe that we would
be no better off if federal taxes were 12 per cent
lower, even though the bondholders would receive
that much less? (Could they not have invested in
other securities?) By the same token, no tax ever
is a burden, provided the money taken from a
domestic Peter is "transferred" to a domestic Paul,
which is what usually happens.
Note how neatly the argument for the public
debt's alleged economic innocence fits into the
not-so-innocent frame of mind of the demagogues
who plead for wealth redistribution. Why not in-
dulge in such "transfers" by which the loss of one
side is compensated, supposedly, by profits of the
other? By promoting the something-for-nothing
illusion, debt-making serves not only as the motor
of inflation, but also as an intellectual vehicle of
collectivism.
THE ECONOMICS OF THE DEBT
The interest charge on the national debt is a
strategic element in the federal budget. Without
the $9 billion-minus $3 billion, maybe, allowing
for the bondholder's income tax, etc.-among the
"overhead" costs of government, the budget could
be held in balance and the debt reduced by a
notch, still leaving some funds available for tax
cuts.
The national debt burdens the economy in
100
THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT
more than one way. New money the government
borrows is taken out of the nation's "pool" of
savings: $7 billion in 1958, $5 billion in !959.
That much less is left to other borrowers-busi-
ness, consumers, local authorities, home builders.
A shortage of capital is engendered and interest
rates mount, raising production costs and living
c o s t ~ in addition to the government's own costs of
operation.
For another thing, what did the government do
with the money? Little, i ~ any, has been invested
in a productive fashion. Wherever it went, almost
none flows back. Its interest charges are not
covered by forthcoming earnings, as in the case
of reproductive (self-liquidating) investment. In-
stead, the charges have to be paid out of taxes,
which are paid largely by lower-middle-class peo-
ple engaged in production, and a disincentive is
fostered.
Some of the borrowing was necessary, to be sure.
It is scarcely possible for current revenues to
cover all war expenditures. But even during wars,
the abandon with which the responsible politicians
plunge into irresponsible borrowing-of the most
dangerous short-term variety, preferably-is some-
thing to behold. What justification is there in
this prosperous postwar era for not reducing the
debt, nay, for raising it further?
Of course, it is much easier to win support for
public spending out of future generations' income
101
AN INFLATION PRIMER
than at the living, and voting, taxpayers' expense.
The latter resent higher taxation, especially when
the burden is very heavy already, while the former
cannot talk back. By recourse to borrowing, a
singular hurdle to foolhardy projects (with popular
appeal) is eliminated. And something else is elimi-
nated: the rational control over the use of the
borrowed funds. As Adam Smith wrote nearly
200 years ago, speaking of the difference between
private and public debt:
A creditor of the public, considered merely as such, has
no interest in the good condition of any particular por-
tion of land, or in the good management of any particular
portion of capital stock. As a creditor of the public he
has no knowledge of any such particular portion. He has
no inspection of it. He can have no care about it. Its
ruin may in some cases be unknown to him, and cannot
directly affect him.
Budgetary controls are a highly unsatisfactory sub-
stitute for the lender's "inspection" of individual
credit risks, least satisfactory on the postwar scene,
when the Congress cannot even figure o u ~ t the
exact state of fiscal commitments, or the govern-
ment its own operational condition. The federal
budget is in a hopeless confusion, perpetuated by
the demagogues' disposition to take credit for cur-
rent welfare spending and leave the debit to their
successors.
The sheer size of the American national debt
should provide food for thought. Instead, it pro-
102
THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT
vides the inflationists with a hollow argument.
Why, the "bankers" were hollering about national
bankruptcy if the debt should pass $50 billion.
Now, we are close to $300 billion, and the shout-
ing has subsided. What matters is not the actual
size of the debt but its proportion to the national
income, ignoring the fact that the two rise to-
gether: IIlore debt means more paper income. If
the debt rises faster, that is no problem either.
One simply declares that the new proportion is the
right one. The richer the nation, the greater its
ability to pay and the more it can borrow, a reason-
ing which at least recognizes that the debt is a
burden. But it does not recognize the fact that in
the process of accumulating the debt, prices had
been inflated, the credit structure distorted, the
savers shortchanged, the nation's financial stand-
ards corrupted, and the foundations of the free-
enterprise system impaired. Misgivings of sane
minds were due to the foresight that unsavory
practices would have to be used in "selling" a
blown-up volume of obligations, with a chain re-
action of sickening repercussions to be expected.
FISCAL LEGERDEMAINS
Our national debt is equal to three-fifths of the
annual gross national product, nearly double the
public debts of all non-Soviet countries combined.
How can the American capital market carry such
a load of parasitical claims and still function? It
103
AN INFLATION PRIMER
does so by a number of financial tricks and decep-
tive devices, all contrary to the 0perational rules
of the free market, some even to the criteria of
the criminal code.
Let us consider the distribution of the debt by
major categories of holders, starting with the some
$50 billion in the Treasury's trust funds, largely
the social security, the railroad pension, and the
veterans' life insurance accounts. These funds
represent the excess of special payroll taxes over
and above the amounts disbursed. The managers
of an insurance or of a trust company would soon
be out of. business if they invested in their own
obligations the funds entrusted to them. But that
is precisely what the government does. It diverts
the earmarked revenues into general expenditures
and puts its own IOU's in the respective accounts.
It considers these well-Hplaced" obligations as
owned by itself: the Treasury's one pocket owes it
to the Treasury's other pocket. The sovereign
cannot be put in his own penitentiary. In contrast,
continental social-insurance systems, notably the
German, are autonomous bodies that invest their
reserves traditionally in bonds of private (regu-
lated) mortgage-credit institutions-rather than in
government obligations.
The interest on these well-placed bonds is
"paid" in more IOU's. What if outgoing pay-
ments should exceed the contributions? Why,
that is simple; the rate of the levy will be raised,
104
THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT
or more people will be· forced to the "insur-
ance." A more ingenious piece of financial leger-
demain is hard to irlvent. Quite logically, the
bureaucrats figure that, since agencies of Uncle
Sam hold the obligations of UntIe Sam, the two
sides of his ledger cancel out. Accordingly, $40-
odd billion are deducted from the "gross" national
debt. The "net" debt is reduced by that amount,
thus adding a statistical legerdemain to the finan-
cialone. In any case, one-sixth of the debt is no
headache to the Treasury (for the time being).
FALSIFYING THE BANK BALANCE SHEETS
There are several more dumping places for fed-
eral securities, namely, agencies that have no other
choice in investing their funds, though they are
not organs of the Treasury. Number one is the
central bank. The Federal Reserve holds some
$27 billion which, by and large, have to be "rolled
over" from one maturity date to the next, depriv-
ing the Reserve System of its freedom of ma-
neuvering. It buys bonds but scarcely ever sells
a major amount.
.Another revealing case in point is the Federal
Deposit Insurance Corporation. This agency sinks
the "insurance" premiums paid by the banks into
long-term government bonds, accumulating so far
about worth, as a guaranty fund for
some $140 billion of "insured" bank deposits.
The FDIC itself brought out in its report for 1957
105
AN INFLATION PRIMER
that, in effect, deposit insurance is relevant only in
a bank c r i s i s ~ i n which case the FDIC would not
be helpful at all. Its funds might be exhausted if
a single one among the eight biggest banks would
get into trouble, to say nothing of a widespread
run. (The public's impression is that the deposits
are guaranteed by the government, which is not
the case.) On top of that, to cover even a small frac-
tion of the "insured" deposits, the FDIC would
have to liquidate its own holdings and break the
bond market. Not only is this a phony arrangement
which misleads the public, but it also misleads the
banks to reckless credit policies and to negligence
in building up proper capital accounts for the
protection of the deposits. The banks rely on the
"insurance"-and on their own holdings of govern-
ment securities.
.That brings us to the some $65 billion of federal
securities held by the banking fraternity, equal at
the end of 1959 (on the books) to about 25 per
cent of total deposits. Insurance companies and
savings and loan associations were holding another
$20 billion. The institutions are under no com-
pulsion to buy and are free to sell-legally. De
facto" they have a limited choice only. They are
cajoled (and bamboozled) into buying and retain-
ing these securities, mostly of longer than one-year
maturity, in violation of economic common sense,
business ethics, and governmental responsibility.
A corporation publishing faked balance sheets
106
THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT
would be barred from every stock exchange. It
may face .criminal prosecution. The objective is
to protect the investor against fraud. The same
fraudulent practice, however, is legalized so far as
commercial and savings banks are concerned.
They can carry government bonds on their books
at par value. A $1,000 bond may be quoted on
the market at $800 or less; the balance sheet of
your bank still may show it at $1,000. No need to
write off such losses out of current' profits. The
banks may even pay dividends-out of losses.
The purpose of this perverted regulation,
adopted by all federal and state supervisory agen-
cies and by the SEC, is to give those bonds a
sacrosanct status, guaranteed against book losses.
Thereby, they are promoted to absolutely safe and
"liquid" investments. The bank examiners count
the federal bonds, whatever their maturity and
actual price, as prime liquid assets, just like cash.
The more bonds in the portfolio, the more liquid
is the bank, by the examiners' standards, and never
mind the losses. (The more loans, the less liquid
is the bank, and never mind the quality or the
maturity of the loans!)
Small wonder that the banks purchase risk-
loaded long-term federal obligations, thereby
creating a market for them. (They are easily
"persuaded" . to buy short-terms: the Treasury
sweetens the deals by throwing deposits on tax-
and-loan-accounts into the bargain.) With rising
107
AN INFLATION PRIMER
interest rates and declining values of medium- and
long-term securities, as in 1958-59, the much too
modest capital accounts, or reserves against losses,
were impaired in most banks! In a number of
banks, the entire capital and surplus had been lost.
In some, even a part of the deposits was wiped
out. The public knows nothing about this sad
situation. No newspaper dares to discuss it, or the
preposterous methods of the government at the
root of it. The "silence of the sea" covers them
up. Those persons on the inside (and with insight)
hope and pray that a recession will reduce the
pressure on the capital market, raise bond prices,
and wipe out the losses. Very likely it will; but
what about the next cycle? For how long, or how
many times, will the depositors and savers permit
themselves to be fooled? Sooner or later every
legerdemain, subtle as it may be, is exposed and
backfires.
As it is, the bond portfolios tend to "freeze in"
time and again. By selling them, the banks dis-
close their losses, which would skyrocket if major
amounts were liquidated. While the boom and
high interest rates prevail, the "prime liquidity"
turns into prime iI-liquidity-unless the bonds are
monetized by, and the losses shifted to, the Federal
Reserve. The central bank may, perhaps, be re-
lied on to resist the "telnptation" to absorb either
or both temptations, but it could be overruled by
the Congress.
108
THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT
History may not teach anything (to those who
do not wish to learn), but it certainly shO'\vs what
happens to every public debt that has become
burdensome. Sooner or later, it is liquidated.
There are two kinds of illegitimate liquidation, in
addition to the legitimate kind. State bankruptcy"
the partial or total repudiation of capital or inter-
est, or both, is one technique, a favorite pastime
of totalitarian states. The other kind consists in
a gradual depreciation of the currency, wiping
out the real value. (the burden!) of the obligations.
This is what modern democracies, including ours,
have been practicing for some time.
109
XI
THE CURSE OF THE DEBT
THE "RATIONALE" OF INFLATION
Does it matter how large the national debt is?
Not really, quoting a widely used college text-
book: "There is no sign that a high debt
the credit of the government ... and since as a last
resort 'it can borrow from itself,' there need be no
fear on this account."
When the national Treasury is unfathomably in
the red, the nation turns color blind. It prefers to
believe that red is black, or at least white, that
liabilities, if not real assets, are "no burden."
When this stage is reached, the doors of the fool's
paradise open wide. Actually, the more indebted
a nation is, the more immune it becomes from the
fear of national bankruptcy. Once the principle
that debts have to be repaid sooner or later is for-
gotten, all monetary inhibitions (which the dis-
cipline of the gold standard used to provide!) go
with the political wind. The mileage of irrespon-
sibility may be gauged by the Democratic plat-
form of 1960 which promises additional expendi-
tures of $80 for "rights-of-man" items in
the next five years, as well as a few billions for in-
creased military spending, all these on top of a
110
THE CURSE OF THE DEBT
current budget of $81 billion. For parallels in
fiscal cynicism one has to go back to the days of
the Jacobin-controlled French revolutionary con-
vention.
A large debt necessitates money-printing and
brings about price inflation. As it is, debt ~ o n e t i ­
zation virtually is forced on the government by the
colossal volume of the debt. An attempt to collect,
say, $100 billion savings for permanent invest-
ment in government bonds is out of the question.
Interest rates would have to rise to prohibitive
heights, and the flow of capital into mortgages,
corporate and municipal bonds would have to b ~
greatly reduced, if not stopped altogether. To
avoid "excessive" interest rates and an excessive
drain on the long-term funds, the Treasury is
driven into the short-term money market. At this
writing, $70-odd billion marketable obligations
are maturing within one year. Another $48 billion
nonmarketable bonds and $6 billion convertibles
belong, in effect, in the same category, adding up
to nearly one-half of the gross debt. Then, too,
$73 billion marketables are due in one to five
years, which is still a very short range.
To borrow short is very convenient-for finan-
cial charlatans. No problem of "placing" the
bonds; most of the time, banks and others with
excess cash can use three- to nine month treasury
bills, one-year certificates, and similar instrumen-
talities. They are as good as cash and also yield a
III
AN INFLATION PRIMER
return. They are equivalent to cash because the
government never defaults (how could it when it
may, in effect, print the money with which to pay
-"borrow from itself"), and there is a safe and
secure outlet for them in the central bank. The
Federal Reserve is here to pick up the slack, if any,
and to turn it into legal tender. To monetize this
kind of debt is a political must. Otherwise, not
only the Treasury's credit but the entire credit
structure would be doomed.
In final analysis, our credit system and our eco-
nomic "security" rest on the national debt. Three-
fifths of the Federal R ~ s e r v e ' s assets consist of
public securities. They also constitute most of the
"cash" reserves of the corporations and savings
and loan associations, and one-half to two-thirds
of the banks' "liquidity." Virtually every cent of
what we consider as prime liquid assets is either
government paper or a claim on government
paper.
FICTIONAL FINANCE AND MONETIZATION
The implications of this imaginary liquidity
are devastating, as demonstrated by the behavior
of the average banker. He finds that 40 per cent
or more of his assets are "prime liquid," either
paper money or claims on paper money to be
issued against government paper. The purchas-
ing power thus created has nothing to do with gold
or silver or marketable goods or anything tangible,
112
THE CURSE OF THE DEBT
present or future. But his bank exudes "liquidity,"
as at no other time before 1934. Within very
broad limits, he can proceed to make loans in al-
most any iI-liquid fashion; legally and statistically,
his situation remains comfortable and unassail-
able, provided he observes the customary rituals.
It makes little difference how far the maturity of
his business loans, mortgage loans and "other"
loans is stretched; or how good the credit of the
respective debtors is. He pours out installment
credit by mortgaging the car and forgetting to
check on the car's owner; he uses sight deposits
to extend term loans (up to ten years) on oil-in-the-
ground without a thought to the future price of
overproduced oil; he finances construction that
will pay its way only if the inflation continues in-
definitely; he gives, and is encouraged to give,
mortgage credit to young couples with or without
secure jobs, at little or no down payment; and
so on.
Financially, we live in a world of fiction, as
we did in the 1920's. Then, a gigantic structure'
of stock-market values provided the fictitious
liquidity that oiled the wheels of a mythical pros-
perity. Now, a gigantic structure of artificial bond
values generates the lubricant of an equally ficti-
tious prosperity-at mounting costs, prices and
tensions-based on the inlplicit myth of the central
bank's inexhaustible capacity to maintain, by debt
monetization, the system's liquidity.
113
AN INFLATION PRIMER
The direct monetary consequences are patent.
Suppose the Federal Reserve would suddenly re-
fuse to buy, or to loan on, any more obligations
of the national government (to say nothing of un-
loading an appreciable portion of its portfolio).
The demand for those obligations could dry up
overnight. Banks and financial institutions, busi-
ness corporations, and many individuals would
find themselves in a highly uncomfortable condi-
tion. Instead of swimming in liquidity, actual or
potential, they might be faced with far-reaching
liquidations. A scramble for "cash" could develop
into an old-fashioned money panic. At any rate,
security and real estate values, based as they are on
the assumuption of an indefinite credit flow,
would be in for a severe beating.
But why should the Federal Reserve stop mone-
tizing "whenever needed" to maintain the fiction
of ample liquidity? And if it were reluctant, what
would stop the Congress from forcing the central
bank's hand? We do not doubt that the Congress
is almighty, so far as legislation is concerned. The
question is, merely, whether economic forces can
be outlegislated. As things stand now, debt mone-
tization by the Federal Reserve could not be re-
sumed on a major scale without giving a fresh
impetus to the vicious wage-price spiral, impair-
ing the balance of payments, and sparking an out-
flow of gold. Unless we are ready to take another
dollar devaluation on the chin, or to accept all-
114
THE CURSE OF THE DEBT
round price, wage, and foreign-exchange control-
let alone the mass unemployment in the wake of a
progressive inflation-the volume of Federal Re-
serve credit must be kept under control. And there
is another Damocles sword hanging over the na-
tional economy, one that is being neglected, if not
ignored, in the controversy about creeping infla-
tion.
EXPANDING ON OVERDRAFT
Technically and psychologically, the inflated
national debt is the pillar that holds up an over-
inflated and rapidly growing structure of non-
federal (municipal, corporate, and individual)
debts. That paper edifice is growing faster than
the money volume or people's net income or net
savings; faster than productive investment or in-
dustrial output. Totaling an estimated $603.1
billion at the end of 1959, the net private-plus-
municipal debt is now three and one-half t i m e s ~
what it was thirty years ago, when it collapsed by
its own weight. But that ominous reminder does
not tell the full story. What matters is the self-
accelerating growth of the nonfederal debt tower.
The addition in 1959 (net, after repayments)
amounted to $57.4 billion, the largest ever, $7
billion more than in the previous peak year of
1957 and practically equaling its own increase in
eight years of the booming twenties!
Patently, the growth of private, corporate, and
115
AN INFLATION PRIMER
municipal debts-leaving aside the federal debt-
finances our economic growth. It is equally patent
that the one "growth" must not, and cannot, run
far ahead of the other, for how could the debts be
serviced and amortized, if not from the output of
the investment which they financed? But the non-
federal debt zooms ahead of the GNP; at that, a
large slice of the GNP consists of things (such as
military hardware) and services (of bureaucrats,
for example) which cost a lot but are not accept-
able in payment to creditors.
Recourse on the national debt and its moneti-
zation is the built-in safeguard of the inflationist.
Indeed, it is built into his mind. His is a mind
equipped with statistics, dialectics, and wishful-
ness; it lacks nothing but foresight (and hind-
sight!). Living in a financial Eden, it ignores the
serpent in the Garden. Its name is overexpansion.
1
DEBT LIQUIDATION
With regard to nonfederal debts, unless the bor-
rowing is done, in effect, for wasteful consumption
or sheer gambling, and some of it .surely is, the
m o n e ~ serves to enlarge production and productive
facilities. Directly or by indirection, credits (debts)
provide the means' of expanding the industrial
capacity-from inventories and machines to build-
ings and plants-and an incentive to do so.
But th.e "leverage" in the financial setup of com-
munities, corporations, and family budgets gets
116
THE CURSE OF THE DEBT
shorter and shorter, and we are heading for a
devastating break of the dams which hold a per-
nicious liquidation from f l o o d i n ~ the rampart of
the economy. The crisis is unavoidable, as it was
unavoidable in the past, when people awaken to
the understanding that there are no real values,
that is, earning power, back of the excessive capaci-
ties and malinvestments which their claims are
supposed to represent.
Economic growth may be, and has been, fostered
for years by a turbulent expansion of private and
corporate debts. When the latter burst at the
seams, the government will not be able to step in
to save the day and maintain the growth. It may
have no untapped tax sources left, and it will have
exhausted its debt resources-overdrawn on its
own credit. What remains is recourse on the cen-
tral bank. By then, money printing may smooth
the liquidation process, at best; at worst, it will
bring about a run on the dollar. In either case, a
period of economic stagnation is bound to be the
reward for a prolonged process of capital erosion.
CREEPING INFLATION'S SUICIDE
, Fortunately, there is salvation in prospect, nay,
under way. The built-in automatism (a real one,
not man-made) of the financial market place will
terminate the reckless debt inflation. It does so by
restraining the banks whose liquidity is impaired,
with or without raising the interest rates. Rise they
117
AN INFLATION PRIMER
must, if the super-boom is rekindled, because the
vastrcredit demand of the would-be debtors clashes
with a growing reluctance of the capital owners
and managers to invest in futility. Savings institu-
tions are compelled to buy ,fixed-interest assets;
individual savers may be barnboozled by solemn
and meaningless assertions of maintaining artifi-
cial full employment and stability under the freely
spending welfare state. Advocates of the welfare
state ignore elementary economics: that full em-
ployment of a durable nature can be arrived at
only if prices and costs adjust themselves to the
market. But the necessary adjustments are post-
poned, if not stymied, by the inflation of debts.
Creeping inflation is a costly and dangerous
luxury which only an economy that is not loaded
with debts as yet can afford.
1. For an early consideration of this menace, see R. P. Dlin's
"Are We Building Too Much Capacity?" Harvard Business
Review, November-December, 1955.
118
XII
THE DOLLAR ON THE SICKBED
"GOOD AS GOLD"
The modern history of gold is rich in contro-
versies. "Gold shortage and global devaluation"
was the battle cry of the money cranks in ·the late
twenties. Then, in the thirties, an excessive gold
inflow sparked freakish proposals in the opposite
direction, varying from an import tax on gold to
its total demonetization. These proposals were
answered on Friday, May 3, 1940) as follows:
For the excess of goods we shipped and for the dollar
credits we granted we have taken gold in the last six years
instead of promissory notes. The phrase "good as gold"
still has real meaning in the world. I prefer the gold to
pieces of foreign paper. I think most Americans agree
with me.
The speaker was Mr. Morgenthau, FDR's Secre-
tary of the Treasury. He would rank today as a
right-wing Republican. His common-sense state-
ment came virtually at the historic moment when
common sense and American monetary policy
parted company. In 1940, the dollar was indeed
"good as gold" again. Since then, as a nation, we
take neither gold nor promissory notes for the ex-
cess of goods we ship; instead, we give the for-
eigners our own promissory notes (dollar balances)
119
AN INFLATION PRIMER
as a sort of bonus; lately we "ship" out the gold,
too. Nothing wrong with all that, indicated the
Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board on Feb-
ruary 24, 1960) after the country had lost nearly
$ 3 ~ billion of gold in two years. "Proper United
States policy," he said, "could prevent any ...
'hypothetical dilemma' [due to our continuous
balance of payments deficits] from arising."
The dilemma to which the chairman was refer-
ring-the choice between losing our gold and re-
straining the inflation-is far from hypothetical or
easily preventable. Actually, we are up against an
explosive problem posed by the relentless growth
of short-term dollar claims in the hands of for-
eigners and the simultaneous erosion of the gold
reserve that is the coverage of last resort of a
rapidly growing money supply. The candle of
the dollar is burning at both ends.
THE SICK BALANCE OF PAYMENTS
The threat to the dollar is due to a persistent
deficit in the country's international accounts.
Our balance of trade with the outside world (mer-
chandise and services, including tourist traffic,
transportation, return on investments) produces
an export surplus every year. Yet, for the last
decade our over-all balance of payments showed a
deficit in every single year-more payments due
than receipts coming in.
Table A summarizes in the conventional fashion
120
THE DOLLAR ON THE SICK. BED
Surplus or
Deficit (-)
$1.4
1.0
Unilateral Payments
and Loans by
U.S. Government
& Privates (Net)
$- 6.4
-10.6
- 6.7
- 7.0
- 6.0
- 6.2
- 6.7
- 7.3
- 6.7
- 6.3
- 8.6
- 8.9
- 8.4
- 8.4
TABLE A4t
U.S. BALANCE OF PAYMENTS-WITHOUT GOLD
AND FOREIGN CAPITAL MOVEMENTS
(Billions of Dollars)
Trade Balance:
Surplus of
Exports or
Imports (-) of
Goods & Services
1946..... . $ 7.8
1947...... 11.6
1948.... . . 6.7
1949...... 6.4
1950..... . 2.3
195L..... 5.2
1952...... 4.9
1953.... .. 4.7
1954...... 5.0
1955...... 4.4
1956.... . . 6.5
1957..... . 8.2
1958...... 4.6
1959 ..... 1.9
-0.6
-3.7
-1.0
-1.8
-2.6
-1.7
-1.9
-2.1
-0.7
-3.8
-6.5
·Source, Tables A, B, and C: U.S. Department of Commerce, Sur-
vey of Current Business, July, 1954, and the June issues, 1955 to 1960.
the recent development of our international bal-
ance of payments, omitting the in-and-out move-
ments of gold and of foreign capital. (They may
be considered the balancing items, as we shall s e e ~ )
It shows that billions more than the excess we
earn businesswise is either given away by the
government or lent out and remitted privately, in
unilateral payments. But private investments and
remittances abroad absorb only a small part of our
trade surplus. What brings about the huge defi-
ciency in the over-all balance is shown in Table B:
the cornucopia of governmental handouts and
military spending abroad.!
121
AN INFLATION PRIMER
TABLE B
SOURCES OF DE'FICIT ON U.S. FOREIGN ACCOUNTS
(Billions of Dollars)
Net
U.S. Government U.S. Military
Handouts Spending
(Nonmilitary) Abroad (Net)
Year
1950 .
1951 .
1952 .
1953.< .
1954 .
1955 .
1956 .
1957 .
1958 .
1959 .
Total .
S 3.7
3.3
2.5
2.2
1.8
2.3
2.5
2.7
2.8
3.6
27.4
S 0.6
1.3
2.0
2.5
2.5
2.8
3.0
3.2
3.4
3.1
24.4
Total
S 4.3
4.6
4.5
4.7
4.3
5.1
5.5
5.9
6.2
6.7
51.8
DOLLARS IN OVERSUPPLY
By the end of 1959, the United States had lost
$5 billion gold; exactly $5.264 billion since
August, 1947. Another $0.526 billion left our
gold reserve in the first eight and one-half months
of 1960.
A fraction of the annual deficiency is accounted
for by unaccounted items: "errors and omissions."
Another fraction is covered by the net inflow of
foreign long-term investments. But the main off-
setting items are two: either we pay in interna-
tionally acceptable cash, which is gold; or the for-
eigners leave the money in the United States by
acquiring bank balances and short-term treasury
paper. What has actually happened is set out in
Table C.
Three of every four "excess" dollars our govern-
122
THE DOLLAR ON THE SICK BED
$-3.7
-1.0
-1.8
-2.6
-1.7
-1.9
-2.1
-0.7
-3.8
-6.5
$3.6
1.0
1.7
2.5
1.7
1.9
2.1
0.7
4.0
6.6
t
0.5
0.5
0.2
t
0.5
0.6
0.8
0.4
0.8
$1.9
0.6
1.6
1.1
1.4
1.4
1.8
0.7
1.2
4.7
16.4
Gold
Gain
(-) or
Loss *
$1.7
-0.1
-0.4
1.2
0.3
t
-0.3
-0.8
2.3
1.1
5.0
TABLE C
U.S. BALANCE OF PAYMENTS DEFICIT AND OFFSETTING ITEMS
(Billions of Dollars)
Total Balance of
Net Inflow Statistical Off- Payments
of Foreign Errors and Setting Deficit
Capital Omissions Items (from Table A) Year
1950 .
1951. .
1952 .
1953 .
1954 .
1955 .
1956 .
1957 .
1958 .
1959 .
TotaL .
·Gold "gain" means import of gold; hence minus sign.
tLess than 0.05.
ment dissipates abroad return like homing pigeons
as claims on our gold reserve. At latest count (end
of June, 1960) foreign-owned bank balances and
short-term treasury securities amounted to $20.34
billion, having doubled in ten years. That is not
all. American liquid assets, including currency,
owned by foreigners other than banks and public
authorities, may now stand around $2.4 billion.
(The official estimate was $2.676 billion for 1957
and $2.522 billion for 1958.) Also, $2.3 billion of
U.S. government notes and bonds with "original"
maturities of more than one year are held by banks
abroad and could be liquidated on fairly, short
notice. At this writing, the total of foreign-held
liquid dollar assets is in the order of $25-odd
billion (Table D).
123
AN INFLATION PRIMER
TABLE n·
End of
Year
1949 .
1950 .
1957 .
1958 .
1959 .
Mid-1960 .
9/14/60 .
Foreign Liquid
Assets t in U.S.
(in millions)
$ 9,757
11,715
18,593
19,597
23,723
25,175
not available
U.S. Gold
Reserve
(in millions)
$24,563
22,820
22,857
20,582
19,507
19,363
18,939
Ratio (%) of
Foreign Claims
to Gold
39.7
51.3
81.3
95.2
121.6
130.0
n.a.
·Sources: U.S. Department of Commerce, Survey of Current Busi-
ness, August, 1959, and June, 1960; Federal Reserve Bulletin, August,
1960.
tlncluding U.S. government securities with original maturities of
more than one year and estimated foreign nonbank holdings of
American liquid assets.
The outer world's dollar shortage (that was to
last forever, remember?) turned into an over-
supply of dollars abroad. This is a unique situa-
tion: a country deliberately and systematically
squanders its gold reserve and piles up a mountain
of "hot-money" obligations of the most volatile
sort, though it does not wish to impair the gold
value of its currency. To make things worse, the
Federal Reserve deliberately lowers its discount
rates to foster domestic inflation-and the gold
outflow.
CAN THE BALANCE OF PAYMENTS BE REDRESSED?
The give-away programs are a built-in feature of
our national policy. In the official theory, they are
a must for the cold war. Why they have to total
an annual $8 to $9 billion, rather than $5 billion
124
THE DOLLAR ON THE SICK BED
or $11 billion, has never been explained. The
standards, if any, by which the volume of this fan-
tastic subsidy (to the special interests in exports) is
determined, are seemingly divorced from any con-
cern about the balance of payments, the gold stock,
or the stability of the dollar.
There is scant likelihood that o'ur balance of
trade should improve greatly and in a lasting
fashion. 'l"he huge surpluses of the early post..
1945 era (Table A) are out of the question since
Europe's and Japan's recovery. Their competitive
prowess makes itself felt sharply along innumer-
able lines of merchandise. It is greatly strength-
ened by operations under American licenses and
by the exodus of American firms in search of more
profiitable climates. If our exports have risen this
this year (1960) as against last, it is largely because
of the coincidence of a domestic slowdown with a
superboom abroad. However, unit cost differen-
tials still tend to broaden in our disfavor, due to
the effect of (American-financed) technological
progress abroad, combined with much lower
wages there than on this side. Once the cyclical
slowdown reaches Europe, as it well may, and non-
recurrent factors fade out,2 European exports will
increase and their imports from the United States
will decline.
Two-fifths of our exports consist of raw com-
modities and semimanufactured items, the ~ e a k e s t
links in the world price structure. Foodstuff im-
125
AN INFLATION PRIMER
ports are restrained everywhere; the unloading of
farm surpluses (unless in exchange for payment in
irredeemable currencies) is up against severe ob-
stacles. Most industrial staple prices are depressed;
a moderate recession in Europe would bring them
down further. There is no hope for an early re-
vival of our coal, petroleum, and metal exports
which accounted for more than half the 1958-59
shrinkage in our total exports.
As to economizing on imports, a severe domestic
recession would do, ironically. Higher tariffs
and restrictive quotas would not do; they run
counter to the national policy of fostering interna-
tional trade and would boomerang in higher do-
mestic costs and fewer exports. At that, Washing-
ton nods to European "integration" movements,
although their result is to discriminate against
our exports.
In its embarrassment, the U.S. government pres-
sures the Allies, especially Germany, to "play the
game" and chip in with credits to the under-
developed nations. This the Allies do, on a mod-
erate scale. What they contribute (mostly in their
own "backyards") means an addition to, rather
than a substitute for, our aid. The discussion
about tying our aid directly to our exports has
died down; it would not solve the problem any-
way. Shifting a major part of the cost of maintain-
ing u.s. garrisons in the host countries may dis-
courage their own armament efforts.
126
THE DOLLAR ON THE SICK BED
Foreign governments may be persuaded to
accelerate payments on their long-term debts to
the United States. They are making advance pay-
ments. Evidently, the effect could only be minor.
If feasible at all, an attempt to discourage foreign
central banks from withdrawing gold would most
certainly boomerang.
Theoretically, recourse could be taken to Amer-
ican investments abroad, at least on the "liquid"
assets amounting to $5.6 billion (end of 1958); the
government owns $2.14 billion. How much could
be liquidated-risking an international panic-is
open to question. Uncle Sam did borrow from the
International Monetary Fund, but he will have to
repay sooner or later. Such stratagems are helpful
in a short-lived emergency only. That is not what
weare up against. In fact, the dollar predicament
is to continue indefinitely. Presently, foreigners
could claim some 30 per cent more gold than we
possess. How imminent is the menace that they
might?-bearing in mind that international trade
and finance, the domestic price structure, in fact
the whole economic system) are intimately linked
to gold and its present dollar price.
1. Military transfers under grants, consisting of weapons,
etc., are not included among the unilateral payments, and they
do not affect the balance of payments.
2. A temporary upsurge of European demand for cotton,
aluminum, and airplanes, an.d the "upward adjustment" of our
cotton and wheat subsidies, are primarily responsible for the
rise of the "visible" trade balance by nearly $2 billion in the
first half of 1960. Merchandise exports are likely to increase in
a recession.
127
XIII
THE SAD PREDICAMENT OF
THE FOOL'S PARADISE
HEADING FOR INSOLVENCY
"We-you and I and our Government-must
avoid the impulse to live only for today, plunder-
ing for our own ease and convenience, the precious
resources of tomorrow.
"We cannot mortgage the material assets of our
grandchildren without risking the loss also of their
potential and spiritual heritage. We want democ-
racy to survive for all generations to come, not to
become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."
These were the memorable farewell words of
President Eisenhower. Unfortunately, it took
nearly eight years before his administration dis-
covered that the country is up against an impend-
ing balance-of-payment crisis. There is nothing
"impending" about it any longer. It will not take
eight months, possibly not even eight weeks, be-
fore the incoming Kennedy administration will
have to take drastic steps-and, especially, to leave
out some it was planning to take-in order to cope
with that crisis.
As these lines go to press, the problem has
reached the critical stage. We have lost in less
128
AN INFLATION PRIMER
than three years over $5.2 billion of our gold re-
serve (closer to $6 billion, including the gold bor-
I rowed from the International Monetary Fund),
more than $2 billion in the last four months to
mid-January, 1961.
Where are the surplus dollars coming from, to
be turned into gold by redemption at the Federal
Reserve Bank of New York or by purchasing gold
on the London, Toronto, and other markets? Our
balance of payments is "leaking" in several places,
through which dollar claims are flowing out in
excessive quantities: $3.3 billion in 1958, over $5
billion in 1959, an estimated $3.5 to $4 billion
"only" in 1960.
A temporary leak was created by the Federal
Reserve System itself. Since early 1960. it has
irresponsibly lowered and kept low the short-term
money rates, thereby creating a broad-yield differ-
ential between foreign and domestic credit instru-
ments. The result was a great deal of American
capital flow to London and Frankfurt. However,
since the European central banks willy-nilly re-
duced their discount rates (in order to please the
Americans), the differential has been c u ~ to a
point where it scarcely covers the costs involved
in transferring short-term funds from these shores
to the others.
Potentially far more important is a second leak:
flight from the dollar. At home and abroad, peo-
pIe have come to suspect that the dollar will be
129
THE SAD PREDICA1VIENT OF THE FOOL'S PARADISE
devalued. Arational reaction is, for the foreigner:
to get rid of his dollars; for the American: to hedge
by buying gold or gold certificates, possibly even
on money borrowed abroad (on 97 per cent
margin). But the total of such has
been, so far, the proverbial drop in the bucket.
Mr. Eisenhower's order to liquidate gold holdings
held abroad affects residents of this country only;
it could scarcely be policed.
1
In any case, it
amounts to fighting the smoke, rather than the fire
that produces the smoke. The run on the dollar
is not caused by the run on the dollar; it is caused
by lack of trust in our willingness to defend the
dollar, to overcome the persistent deficit in our
balance of payments.
EROSION-HOW MUCH LONGER?
That brings us to the decisive "holes" from
which the deterioration of the payments balance
and the consequent gold outflow stems. They are:
directly, the lavishment of governmental expendi-
tures abroad, totaling between $8 billion and $9
billion a year; indirectly, the domestic cost-price
inflation. The latter reduces the export prowess
of American business, fosters the emigration of
American plants, and generates excessive imports.
If our private consumption is "conspicuous," as
we are being told, it is because of unreasonable
taxation and of inflation fears that induce reck-
less spending and purely speculative investing. As
130
AN INFLATION PRIMER
to our ability to compete, we formerly led the
world in technological progress. Where we are
presently, after many years of spoon-fed "growth,"
was aptly summarized by the Wall Street Journal:
Frequently shoddy workmanship. Crippling strikes for
whimsical reasons. Disdain for the contract. The
enormous economic toll of featherbedding which is
rapidly turning this into a high-cost economy, as reflected
in the inability of U.S. products to compete, as once they
did, in world markets. Perhaps most important of all,
the erosion of values once held high.
. . . if there is softness in America today it is not pri-
marily inferior education or "inadequate" public spend-
ing but this union and statist sponsored philosophy of
indolence.
The problem is more than economic, it is moral. For
what we are witnessing on every side is not only the finan-
cial disintegration of governments. We are witnessing
the collapse of individual responsibility.
Reduced exports and high imports, on top of
the "political" dollar flow, add up to an abund-
ance of dollar balances and claims in foreign
hands. They are claims on gold, in the ratio of an
ounce of gold of 9/ IOths fineness to each $35.
How long can the creditors feel assured that their
claims are really worth the gold if the pile of
claims-over $27 billion already, with the gold re-
serve down to $17.5 billion-keeps rising at a
daily rate of well over $10 million? Presently, the
central banks of the industrial nations (Europe,
-Canada, Japan) refrain, as a rUlle, from withdraw-
131
THE SAD PREDICAMENT OF THE FOOL'S PARADISE
ing dollar funds they had accumulated on this
side. But of the funds they acquire from here on,
about 75 per cent is being converted into gold.
Naturally, they cannot indefinitely tie up in dollar
balances their ultimate liquidity reserves while
the dollar's convertibility is not assured. Their
monetary sovereignty, the freedom to act with
some degree of financial independence, is at stake.
As it is, they cannot help but consider dollar re-
serves as a permanent "investment," of which no
major fraction could be withdrawn without spark-
ing a panic on, and the collapse of, the dollar.
Our problem, then, is to cut the cloth to the
size of the figure-to hold the deliberate outpour
of funds within the limits set by the surplus pro-
duced through current (commercial) transactions
with the outer world. As to bolstering that com-
mercial surplus,. there is one effective way, one
only: balance the budget and stop the monetiza-
tion of the national debt by the Federal Reserve
System.
AT THE END OF CREEPING INFLATION'S ROPE
With their eyes riveted on the gross national
product and similar "aggregate" concoctions, the
addicts of managed money and creeping inflation
ignore the "golden rule" of a free society. It is
this: If you overstrain your financial system, you
lose your gold. Gold, pooh-poohed by the pseudo-
liberals as a "barbaric relic," is the ultimate regu-
132
AN INFLATION PRIMER
lator that keeps the economic world in balance.
Gold is the governor that restrains the credit
apparatus from expanding wildly and the welfare
states from running headlong into collectivism, if
not into ruthless tyranny.
The attraction and virtues of gold are that govern-
ments can't roll it off or create it with the stroke of a pen.
It imposes some monetary discipline by affording a safe-
guard, a store of value which may escape looting, debase-
ment and other forms of spoliation.
That is why the people of the East, with centuries of
experience of rascality by rulers, bandits and other depre-
dators on human welfare, hoard a few pieces of gold
against the days of pillage and spoliation. That is why
the supposedly enlightened peoples of the West have to
tie their money systems in some way to a real commodity,
acquired by an expensive and ugly outlay of human toil.
And it is precisely because governments in our time
have grossly debauched the currency that they now hope
to cover up the distortions by manipulating the price of
gold. George Schwartz, "Really Cheap Money," The
Sunday Times) London, November 13, 1960.
There is no escape from the rule of gold, except
by taking national insolvency on the chin, which is
what dollar devaluation means. Raising the dollar
price of gold would be the signal to devalue all
currencies-global inflation with all-round, semi-
totalitarian controls over international transac-
tions, domestic prices, profits, and wages.
It would be the greatest irony of history, and an
unparalleled tragedy for western civilization, if
America, by exporting inflation) would force the
133
THE SAD PREDICAMENT OF THE FOOL'S PARADISE
world back into the commercial and monetary
chaos from which it has been slowly emerging-
wiping out the stabilization, for the sake of which
the American taxpayer has spent a round $80 bil-
lion since World War II. At that point, inevitably
rising prices would make illusory all (alleged) ad-
vantages resulting from a boost of the gold price
and would call for more of the same fake medi-
cine. And it would mean a thorough defeat in the
cold war, with the material, political, and prestige
advantages accruing to the Soviets.
1. Little New Zealand, an island country, tries hard but does
not succeed in stopping gamblers from transferring domestic
funds with which to play in Australian lotteries, Irish sweep-
stakes, and British football pools.
134
APPENDIX
MONEY SUPPLY AND
INFLATION
WHAT IS MONEY SUPPLY?
The collectivist propensity to invent fresh argu-
ments in order to justify ever more inflation is
something to behold. A latest sample is the com-
plaint that we are suffering from deflation: in the
twelve-month period to the end of May, 1960, the
money supply-meaning the sum of currency out-
side the banks and adjusted net demand deposits
in the banks-has declined by $3 billion, or 2.5
per cent. So, let's hurry and print more money.
The facts are, however, that during the current
(alleged) decline of the money supply the net vol-
ume of outstanding debts rose by $50 billion or
more, bank loans increased by $12 billion, or al-
most 10 per cent, and the consumer price index
went up by 2 per cent.
Just what is the money supply-supply of what?
At stake is the definition of money, a bitterly
fought issue for centuries. Monetary policies were
built on arbitrary definitions, ranging from the
,eighteenth century doctrine (David Hume) that
all credit instruments are money, even bonds and
135
MONEY SUPPLY AND INFLATION-
shares of common stocks, to the dogma underlying
the Peel's Bank Charter Act of 1844 that only gold
coins and Bank .of England notes were to be
counted. Presently, there is virtual agreement that
the concept has to be broader than the latter
definition and narrower than the former, stilileav-
ing a wide range of "freedom" for arbitrary choice.
Of course, the choice of a definition depends on
the functional purpose it is supposed to serve.
What we want to know is the volume of all media
of exchange, and of claims on the same, that are or
may become effective demand for goods and serv-
ices. Accordingly, we have to include not only the
"active" money in process of being turned over
during a chosen period but also all other instru-
ments which might be used for payment, even if
they are "idle" at the time.
ALL DEPOSITS ARE MONEY
What, then, is the justification for using the
figure of cash-plus-demand-deposits as the measure
of the money supply, excluding the time and sav-
ings deposits--as it is customary in Europe? None
whatsoever, unless it is sheer convenience. True,
checking accounts have a higher "velocity of circu-
lation" than savings accounts.
1
But the latter do
turn around; withdrawals amount to 60 per cent
or more of incoming payments. Savings accounts
are subject to a mere 30 days' notice provision,
which is not being enforced; they serve also as a
136
AN INFLATION PRIMER
base for "pyramiding" deposits. This is implicitly
recognized by the law that prescribes mandatory
minimum-liquidity reserves for all kinds of bank
deposits, except those of the government, consider-
ing them as "idle" purchasing power. (The banks
hold an equal amount of government securities
against government deposits.)
The Federal Reserve Bulletin's monthly tabula-
tion of the monetary and banking system's Con-
solidated Conditions includes under "deposits ad-
justed and currency" alIso-called time deposits
(an improper designation). But savings and loan
associations are omitted on the grounds, presum-
ably, that they are not banks in the legal termi-
nology. Yet/ their "savings capital"-that grows at
an annual rate of $6 to $7 billion (I)-is no different
in monetary character from savings deposits in
banks, though not subject to statutory cash reserve
requirements. Nor are these deposits turned over
at a much lower rate. True, there is no legal obli-
gation to redeem them on demand. But they are
being paid out, and the owners regard them as
equivalent to cash.
In their own minds, money is what people
consider as purchasing power., available at once or
shortly. People's "liquidity" status and financial
dispositions are not affected by juristic subtilities
and technicalities. One kind of deposit is as good
as another, provided it is promptly redeemable
into legal tender at virtual face value and is ac-
137
MONEY SUPPLY AND INFLATION
cepted in settling debts. The volume of total de-
mand for goods and services is not affected by the
distribution of purchasing power among the di-
verse reservoirs into which that purchasing power
is placed. As long as free transferability obtains
from one reservoir to the other, the deposits can-
not differ in function or value.
SAVINGS AND SEMANTICS
For the decision to buy a home it is irrelevant
whether the money needed for down payment is
held in a bank, in a savings institution, or in a safe
box. The "money supply" is available in any case.
A source of confusion is the identification of
savings deposits with savings. The former are no
more and no less "saved" than are the funds put on
a checking account or the currency held in stock-
ings. In all three cases, someone is refraining from
consumption (for the time being); in all three, the
funds constitute actual purchasing power. And it
makes no difference in this context how the pur-
chasing power is generated originally: dug out of
a gold mine, "printed" by a governmental agency,
or "created" by a bank loan. As a matter of fact,
savings banks and associations do exactly what
commercial banks do: they build a credit struc-
ture on fractional reserves. They do so even more
"effectively" than the commercial banks, due to
the higher reserve requirements for demand de-
posits.
138
AN INFLATION PRIMER
The fact alone that for credit expansion the
commercial· banks indiscriminately utilize all de-
posited funds, whether on demand or on savings
accounts, should dispel the semantic confusion
caused by the ambivalent use of the term "sav-
ings."
POTENTIAL MONEY
But then, are all claims on stated sums of cur-
rency to be considered as parts of the money sup-
ply? Or where is the line to be drawn? As in most
matters human, there is no cut-and-dried line of
demarcation. There are numerous shades of tran-
sition from money to non-money. It all depends
on the circumstances which determine the judg-
ment of the market place. Everything is money,
to repeat, that is usable as such or is readily
monetizable. That brings us to the "potential"
money supply.
The actual money supply, whether active or
idle, consists of legal tender and its substitutes.
But there are credit instruments which, though
not directly usable to make payments, can be
turned at all times and without loss of capital into
active purchasing power. Bankers' acceptances,
high-class commercial paper and "street loans"
were used for this function at one time or another.
Since 1934, treasury securities of not more than
one-year lifetime (bills, notes, certificates) have
taken over the function on an unprecedented scale.
139
MONEY SUPPLY AND INFLATION
They are alternatives to cash, having ready market
as interest-yielding near-demand deposits which
cannot go in default-if only because the central
bank is expected to monetize them, in ultimate
resort. (This is implicit in its policy of maintain-
ing an "orderly market" for government obliga-
tions.) Thereby, they become equivalents of
money and a temporary repository of major funds
in the hands of the public.
At the end of last May about $45.4 billion of
short (up to one year) treasuries, or $21 billion
more than five years earlier, was held by nonbank
investors. They are primeliquid assets, in the
market's opinion, just like bank balances, because
they can be turned into cash on short notice.
Liquidation before maturity may cause a loss if
the interest rate has risen after the purchase; but
the owners either do not contemplate such pre-
mature liquidation or expect to be compensated
by the return they had earned in the meantime.
Funds are being shifted from deposits into short
treasuries, and vice versa; in the process, the vol-
ume of demand deposits appears to undergo a de-
flation, or the opposite. Which is what happened
recently. As customers depleted their accounts in
order to buy federal short maturities, the "money
supply" in terms of currency-plus-demand-deposit
has contracted for the simple reason that the banks
used the proceeds from the sale of treasury securi-
ties to reduce their debts at the federal reserve
140
AN INFLATION PRIMER
banks. But of course, the total money volume-
actual and potential combined-was not affected.
"LIQUIDITY" VERSUS MONEY SUPPLY
The question at stake is not to find a definition
suitable for the textbooks. The question is: to de-
termine the "dimension" relevant for monetary
policy. As the (British) Radcliffe Report put it
cogently:
The immediate object of monetary action is to affect the
level of total demand.
Monetary action works upon total demand by altering
the liquidity position of financial institutions and of
firms and people desiring to spend on real resources; the
supply of money itself is not the critical factor. [Italics
ours.] Committee on the Working of the monetary Sys-
tem Report) London, August, 1959, p. 135.
The conventional money-supply notion is
totally unsatisfactory, even misleading, as a quanti-
tative base for the understanding (forecasting?) of
price-level trends and for the guidance of m ~ n e ­
tary policy. In this country, as in Britain, the
central bank's .attempts to check the inflation are
to a large extent, if not altogether, frustrated by
the unwieldy volume of overhanging "liquidity."
Aclassic case of the thoughtless application of a
conventional concept has been provided by the
economists of the International Monetary Fund.
In 1952, they announced with fanfares that the
Western world's inflation troubles were over-
141
MONEY SUPPLY AND INFLATION
prices have caught up with the inflated "money
supply." They forgot all about the vast volume of
monetizable public debt almost everywhere. The
dismal record of that forecast did not inhibit Per
Jacobsson, the IMF's managing director, to come
out lately with the same wishful statement that
"wartime inflation" has come to an end and price
stability has returned to the free world.
This is not the first time that Mr. Jacobssonhas
expressed such unwarranted optimism. As head
of the Bank for International Settlements, he made
the following statement in the 1954-55 Annual
Report of that institution (p. 80): "It seems, in-
deed, very likely that, provided the world remains
at peace, the inflationary phase of post-war eco-
nomic development has now come to an end." A
more realistic application of the concept appears.
in the August, 1960, Monthly Review of the
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. The comment
(without reference to Mr. Jacobsson) is: "Has the
economic environment changed so much that the
money supply is no longer excessive as it was in
most of the post-war period? He who would give a
firm answer, to this question at this point would be
foolhardy, indeed."
1. Actually, a large, but statistically unknown, portion of
demand deposits is permanently inactive. Currency, too, is
being "hoarded" in substantial volume. Yet the "idle pur-
chasing media" are generally counted as part of the active
money supply. Compare the June, 1957, Special Bulletin of the
American Institute for Economic Research, Great Barrington,
Mass.
142
BIBLIOGRAPHY:
A SELECTION
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1
Jules.' Wage Determination-An Analysis of Wage
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Bauer, Peter T., and Yamey, Basil S. The Economics of Under-
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Bell, J. W., and Spahr, W. E. (eds.). A Proper Monetary and
Banking System for the United States. New York: Ronald
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Briefs, G6tz. Unionism Reappraised. Washington, D.C.: Amer-
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Brown, A. J. The Great Inflation 1939-1951. London: Oxford
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Chamberlin, Edward H. The Economic Analysis of Labor
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Fisher, Robert Moore. Twenty Years of Public Housing. New
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Harwood, E. C. Cause and Control of the Business Cycle. 5th
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Hazlitt, Henry. The Failure of the ~ N e w Economics': An Analy-
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Kriz, Miroslav A. Gold in World Monetary Affairs Today.
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Lester, R. A. As Unions Mature. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
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Lindblom, C. E. Unions and Capitalism. New Haven, Conn.:
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Nussbaum, A. A History of the Dollar. New York: Columbia
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143
Petro, Sylvester. Power Unlimited-The Corruption of Union
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Poirot, Paul L. The Pension Idea. Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.:
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Schlesinger, James R. The Political .Economy of National
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144
INDEX
INDEX
Adams, W., and Gray, H. M... 55
Administered prices .•.. 50-51, 55
"Aggregates" 132
American Institute for
Economic Research .5,142,144
Anthracite 49
Anti-capitalistic sentiment,
source of ......••••..... 80-82
Austerity •..•••••••••••.. 82, 93
Backman, Jules 144
Balance of payments. 120-127, 128
Balance of trade 120-21, 125-26
Bank examiners 107
Banking system 10, 106-8
Bank for International
Settlements 142
Bank portfolios ..••...... 106-8
Bank reserves ......•• 14-15, 137
Bankruptcy (default) ..... 92-93,
109,133
Bauer, Peter, and
Yamey, B. S.......••••••• 144
Bell, J. W., and Spahr,
Professor Walter E....•... 144
"Big" business 50-51
"Bills only" 22
Bolshevism 76-77,79-83,99
Boulding, K. E. . 37
Briefs, Professor Gotz 144
Brokers'loans .......•... 96, 139
Brown, Professor A. J •...•... 144
Brown, E. H. P., and
Hopkins, S. V....•••••••••. 70
Budget, unbalanced •..•..•.. 85
Budgetary controls .•••••••. 102
Bureaucracy,
bureaucratism .••••••80-81, 85
Business cycles,
"rationale" of ...••.••.. 63-67
Business standards,
deterioration of 55, 131
Capacity to pay .45-47
Capital
flight 129-30
gains 55
Capitalism
people's 94-97
rationale of ......••....... 65
shortcomings of ..... 63-64, 81
Central banking (see also:
Federal Reserve)
inflation and freedom....59-60
Chamberlin, Professor
Edward H. • ..•..•.••.... 144
Clayton Act •..•••••.•••••... 50
Cold war, defeat in...•..•... 134
Collectivism ...•......... 56, 64,
77-82, 100, 135
Commercial and Financial
Chronicle •.....••..•.. 70, 72
Competition ......•...... 59, 77
(see also: price mechanism; mon-
opoly)
international ...•••••.. 125-26
Consumer debt 89-94
Consumption,
"conspicuous" .•..••.. 64, 130
Contracyclical policies ... 34,41,
62-63
Corruption ...•..•.•..... 77-78
Cortney, Philip •..•••.•..... 83
Cost of living......•..•....... 8
cutting .......•••..•.•. 66-67
of construction ..•••....... 91
Credit
controls ...•.•.••. 14-15, 95-96
creation of 10-17,20
expansion by govern-
ment 26-27, 34
qualitative. 11-12, 14,64-65,102
Crossman, Richard .........•82
Debts (see also: public debt;
monetization; credit)
burden of 6,94,98-109
business 94
debt management 22-27
income and 89-92, 97, 103
inflation of 87-88
liquidation of 116-17
mortgage .88-89,91-92,97,113
municipal .••......... 115-16
personal ...••..•.•.. 88-92, 97
Deficit finance 28
Deposit insurance .....•.. 105-6
Deposits, pyramiding of... 137-39
Depreciation of purchasing power
(see inflation)
147
INDEX (continued)
Depressions ..•.. 37,63-68,89,93
Devaluation 60, 114,
129-30,133-34
Discount rate policy 129
Dollar "shortage" 124
Douglas, Senator Paul H.•.....61
Eccles, Mariner S....•........ 39
Economic system 77
Economist, The (London) .. 61, 99
Eisenhower, President .. 128, 130
"EJastic currency" 21-22
Employment Act (1946) 78
Erosion of standards...•.. 130-32
Escalators 36
·'Eternal prosperity" ....•.... 94
Farm subsidies 34,41,53
Featherbedding 38,45, 131
Federal Reserve System.... 15-17,
18-27,39-40,94, 129, 132
freedom of 105
Financial disintegration 131
Fiscallegerdemains 103-5
First National City Bank
(New York) 55
Fisher, Robert Moore 144
·'F1exibility" 23
"Fools paradise" 128-34
Foreign aid 53, 121,
124-25, 130, 134
Freedom, meaning of 57-60
Fringe benefits 30,44, 45
Full employment 34,63,
77-78,98-99,118
Galbraith, Professor J.
Kenneth 73,82
Gambling (see speculation)
General Motors 42
"Gold inflation" 3
Gold price (see devaluation)
Gold
dollar balances and .... 122-24
loss of .. 120, 123, 128-29, 131-32
requirement 21
role of. 119, 122, 127, 132-33
standard 21,56-57,76
Gray, Horace M., and
Adams, W 55
Greenbacks ............••.•.. 6
Grievance procedures 38
"Growth"
balanced ....•............ 68
debts and 117
ideology of 57,81
rate of 83, 84-87
vs. progress 65-70,84-87,93
Hazlitt, Henry ......•...... 144
Hoarding ...........•.....•142
Hopkins, S. V., and
Brown, E. H. P 70
Home ownership 91,97
Housing, subsidized. 51, 52, 92-93
Hume, David 135
Illiquidity 59,88,108,113
Industrial conflicts 32-33,
44-45,49, 131
Inflation (see also: monetization;
debts; money supply)
anti-capitalism and 95
built-in 35-38, 110
burden of 5-6,48-49
"cost-push" 30-36
creeping 1-2,4-8,71-83,
85,94-95,117-18,130,132-34
criminality and 33,97
debt management 20-27
definition of 2-3, 54
employer resistance and .. 53-54
"exported" 133-34
fixed return assets and 5
freedom and 59-60, 81-82
galloping 1-2,7,20
global 133-34
hedges 36
ideology of 98-100, 110-12
income and 2-6, 48-49,
78-79,81,86-87
"legalized robbery" 2-3,5-6
"modus operandi" 10-17,
28,34,36
over-expansion and 66,
68-69,88
perpetual 57
psychology 95, 97
source of ............•. 18-27,
28-29,33-34, 141
148
INDEX (continued)
speculation and 7-8,95-97
taxation and 6-7, 48
Inflationists 56-57, 61-64, 69,
78-82,84,116,118,135
Instability, built in 89
Intelligentsia, "liberal" 35
Interest rates, ..... 93,94,99-100
International Monetary
Fund 127, 129, 141-42
Inventory cycles ....•... 64, 65-66
Investment cycles 65-66
Investment trusts ..•.••... 95-96
Jacobsson, Per 142
Jacoby, Professor N. H 92
Kennedy administration 128
Keynes, John Maynard. 62, 71, 82
K.eynesians 64
Kriz, MiroslavA•........... 144
Labor
costs 30-35,48-49
disincentives .44-45
incentives 44
legislation ..•...••••.•.... 38
monopoly 32-35
shortage 34
Labour Party ......•........ 82
Laissez-faire 56-61, 68
Laws, economic ....•.•..•... 56
Legal tender 18
Lester, Professor R. A 144
Lewis, John L. . 49
Liberals, self-styled .49,81-82
Lindblom, Professor C. E 144
Liquidation of debts 109
Liquidity 14-15,66,
107-8, 141-42
fictitious 113
"Listed" prices 51
Lobbies (see pressure groups)
Mal-investments 36
Managed money 20-22,77
Margin requirements 96
Martin, Chajrman W.
MGChesney 24-25, 120
Marx, Karl (Marxism) 63
Military spending
abroad ......•..••.•. 121, 126
Mills, F. C 67-68,70
Minimum prices ...•........ 41
Mobility ............•..•... 91
Monetary discipline 22-23
Monetary expansion 25-26, 185
Monetary velocity 136
Monetization, inflationary .12-17,
35,93,98-99,111-16,
132,139-40
Money
active 136, 139
definition of ..•..•.... 135-37
idle 136-37
potential 139-41
"Money shortage" 64
Money supply 8-9, 35, 135-42
Monopolies 50-52,55,58
(see labor)
Morgenthau, Secretary of
Treasury 119
National income
(product) ....•.... 84-5, 88-90
New Deal 95
New York Times •••• ........ 66
New Zealand 134
Oligopoly 50-51
Open Market Committee 18
O p e ~ Market
operations 19-20, 25
Over-expansion (see inflation)
Over-loaning 27, 88
Over-the-counter market 96
Paper money (see managed
money)
Patronage 77-78,80
Patronage State 76
Patterson, R. T 70
Peel's Bank Charter Act 135
Perpetual prosperity 60-63
Petro, Professor Sylvester 145
"Philosophy" of inflation.. 56-70
Planning 81,84
Pound, Dean Roscoe 145
Power vs. freedom 64,76-82
Pressure groups
(lobbies) 33-35,52,81
Price level ...•..••. 30-31,47,70
149
INDEX (continued)
stability 61-63
Price mechanism .. .41-42,51,55,
59,77,80-81, 93-94, 117
Price supports 51
Procurement, military 51
Productivity .. 31-32,42-47,66-67
Profit inflation 7-8,49-55
Protectionism ...•.... 51,53,126
Public debt
burden of 98-109, 110-12
ceiling over .........•..... 22
economic effects of 100-3
inflation and ...•... 28-29, 100
"roll over" of 105
"wealth creation" by.••. 98-99
Radcliffe Report ...•....• ~ . 141
Rationality, economic ....•.. 58
Recessions ..............•... 37
Reserve requirements
for banks ........••.•.. 20-22
Reynaud, Paul 2
"Right to work" 33, 42
. Risk-bearing and profits 65
Roepke, Professor
Wilhelm 97, 145
Roosevelt, President F. D 98
Rueff, Jacques 83
Samuelson, Professor
Paul A., : 72
Savings
bonds ........•........... 41
deposits 138
erosion of 5-6, 54-55
institutions .17,88, 106,137-40
Schlesinger, Professor
James R 145
Schwartz, George (London) .. 133
Securities and
Exchange Commission.. 96, 107
Sherman Act 50
Slichter, Professor S. H 82
Smith, Adam 102
Social se<;urity ...•.....41,104-5
Spahr, Professor
Walter E., and
Bell, J. W 145
Speculators .7,66,95-96,130,134
Spirals, wage-price 28-38
"Stabilizers" 41
Stockpiling 51
Strikes (see industrial conflicts)
Subsidies ..•. 34,41,48-49,51,85
Sweden .....•............... 79
Switzerland ...•............. 79
Tax avoidance (evasion) 7
Tax burden 6-7, 49-50
Teamsters Union 33
Terborgh, George 145
Trade unions ... 32-33,39-41,46,
49-50,52-55,75
Treasury-Federal
Reserve cooperation .... 23-25
Unemployment 37
technological .48
Union shop .42
United Automobile
Workers 33
Velie, Professor Lester 145
Viner, Professor Jacob 71
Wage claims,
justification of .45-47
Wage structure .47
Wages (see labor costs;
inflation; productivity)
guaranteed Al
Wall Street Journal Al
War finance 6
Welfare State
(welfarism) 76,95, 118
White, Andrew D 145
Work rules (see featherbedding)
Wright, Professor
David McCord 145
Yamey, B. S.,and
Bauer, Peter ••••••••••••• 144
150

INSTITUTE FOR PHILOSOPHICAL AND HISTORICAL STUDIES

EDUCATIONAL SERIES

Number 1

AN INFLATION PRIMER
by Melchior Palyi
T he Tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy. - Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws.

HENRY REGNERY COMPANY
CHICAGO

1962

to encourage and disseminate studies that are calculated to add to the understanding of philosophy. Illinois. is a non-profit corporation organized. and related fields and their application to human endeavor. Books in the various Institute series are published in the interest of public information and debate. Chicago 4.. history. 64 East Jackson Boulevard.© Copyright 1961 by IIenry Regnery Company Library of Congress card number 61-10743 Manufactured in the United States of America Second Printing 1962 The Institute for Philosophical and Historical Studies. among other purposes. . Inc. They represent the free expression of their authors and do not necessarily indicate the judgment and opinions of the Institute.

this study was completed in June. Inc. Chicago) January 17) 1961 MELCHIOR PALYI . for his inspiration and generous help. My sincere gratitude is due. The idea to write a little book of this nature was suggested to the author nearly two years ago by the publisher. to Mr. Mr. President of the Kennametal. Baty. McKenna. Spahr (New York). Pennsylvania. and delivered at the end of the following September.. Publication having been delayed for over three months. the last chapter was rewritten to take cognizance of the "gold crisis" that has lately come to the fore. editor of the Economic Trend Line Studies (Chicago).PREFACE Except for minor corrections and addi'tions. and to Dr. For many useful hints and observations. especially. 1960. of Latrobe. Henry Regnery. I am greatly obliged to Mr. Walter E. Marion R. Philip M.

.

THE FOUNTAINHEADS OF INFLATION •.•••• 1 Galloping and Creeping Inflation .••..CONTENTS I... RIDING ON THE INFLATION CREST ••.. INFLATION'S SYNDROME ••.. "Legalized Robbery" Inflation Defined Creeping Inflation:-A Preview Where Does the Inflation Stand? II. 10 Productive Credit-Monetizing Real Purchasing Power Inflationary Monetization Liquidity-by Inflation The Central Engine of Inflation III.. THE VICIOUS SPIRALS ••.••••••••••••• 28 The Parable of the Horse and the Trough Cost-Push Inflation? Built-in Inflation v.•••• 39 Spreading the Inflation The Fallacy of Built-in Stabilizers The Productivity Debate Labor Disincentives by Inflation Productivity and Capacity to Pay . THE Modus Operandi OF INFLATION ..• 18 The Money-Printing Automat Managed Money-the One-Way Road Inflation by "Debt Management" IV..

THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION ••••• 56 Opportunism Versus Principles "Mind Your Own Business" Perpetual Prosperity without Tears The Rationale of the Cycle Progress or "Growth"? VIII.•.•. . .. . . . ..•.STY •••••. .••••. • . ..••••••••••• 48 Who Pays the Bill? The Pot Calls the Kettle Black Profit Inflation VII. THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT ••• 98 Is It a Burden on the Nation? The Economics of the Debt Fiscal Legerdemains Falsifying the Bank Balance Sheets .•• 71 How Much Is a Little? Cutting the Dog's Tail Piecemeal Power Versus Freedom Must We Follow the Kremlin? IX...CONTENTS (continued) VI. CREEPING INFLATION AND INTELLECTUAL HONE.. • • • • • 84 Progress by Inflation The Liability Side Borrowing a Living Standard "People's Capitalism" x.. THE CONSUMER (AND TAXPAYER) BE DAMNED .. . .. CREEPING INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES .•.••. .••. .

•• 0 •• 0" •• ' •••• 0 ••• 0 0 ••• . • • . • .• o •• 0 •••• 0 . . . THE SAD PREDICAMENT OF THE FOOL'S PARADISE ••••••••••••••••••••••••• 128 Heading for Insolvency Erosion-How Much Longer? At the End of Creeping Inflation's Rope APPENDIX 0 ••• 0 •••• 0 ••• 0 ••••• 0 0 ••• 135 144 147 BIBLIOGRAPHY . .•••••••• 119 "Good as Gold" The Sick Balance of Payments Dollars in Oversupply Can the Balance of Payments Be Redressed? XIII.CONTENTS (continued) XI. • • . • • . . THE CURSE OF THE DEBT 110 The "Rationale" of Inflation Fictional Finance and Monetization Expanding on Overdraft Debt Liquidation Creeping Inflation's Suicide XII. • • . . • . • INDEX ••. • . THE DOLLAR ON THE SICK BED . .

.

"Are you taking the streetcar?" he asked.it. when the professor of physics overtook me. The next step to meet the skyrocketing living costs was to pay us twice a day. one day in late August." Galloping inflation threw the German economy into virtual chaos and demoralized large segments of the German people. the German inflation was rapidly heading toward the grand finale: total repudiation of the currency.M. "Yes.I INFLATION'S SYNDROME GALLOPING AND CREEPING INFLATION In the summer of 1923.M. once every week. 1923. I was walking down the staircase of the school. As an instructor in a Berlin college. 1923.000 marks or so in early 1922 to 10. The fare will be raised by 6 P. this writer drew a monthly salary that had been raised from an inflated 10. then. in the morning and in the afternoon. We may not be able to pay. then once each day. "Let's hurry. and the whole amount was being paid twice a month. Just after 5 P. But at least it did not last long.000." I said. 1 . carrying the day's second haul of ten million marks (the day's first paid for a modest lunch). Adolf Hitler was the ultimate outcome.000 marks by July.

Anyhow. the government itself being the culprit. for equity and justice. we have (allegedly) no other choice but to continue what we have been doing for the last two decades or longer. we are living almost a lifetime with creeping inflation that is supposed to go on indefinitely-without accelerating. Bureau of Labor Statistics.AN INFLATION PRIMER Presently. "LEGALIZED ROBBERY" According to the U. Not so. This is "robbery" on a national scale-a surreptitious levy on liquid income and wealth. while the lucky operator and the political manipulator may reap unearned rewards. the index of (average) consumer prices has risen from 1939 to mid-1960 from 100 to 209-the purchasing power of the dollar declined from 100 to less than 48. It penalizes the saver. we are being assured. with no regard for ability to pay. 2 . the advantages of the latter far outweigh whatever unfavorable repercussions there may be. called "legalized robbery.S. it is confiscation without compensation." Indeed. raised in a haphazard fashion. It is legalized. This is what a former French premier. of course. the galloping kind is pernicious. Paul Reynaud. The victims are deprived of their purchasing power. especially. the creeping type. and the honest producer. and let the dollar's purchasing power slide further -at a leisurely rate. no respect for the rule of law. Admittedly.

is self-correcting. but to a limited extent only. not of economic processes. Nor is it of interest in our context if the rise has been brought about by an expansion of gold mining or gold imports. and bank deposits-that creates the fact and maintains the expectation of a disproportion between the total supply of goods for sale and the 3 . "Legalized robbery" is a universal feature of counterfeit money. Gold is a very scarce commodity. INFLATION DEFINED To be sure. paper inflation is limited only by the total collapse and repudiation of the currency." if any. and for how long. It is the product of deliberate. how much. Sporadic oscillations should be disregarded. Price levels may rise under the purest gold standard. "Gold-inflation. paper is not. this pillar is weakened as the value of money is impaired. The free-enterprise system stands on the pillar of the inviolability of contracts.INFLATION'S SYNDROME Formal legalization does not confer justice by any economic or ethical standards. The powers that rule. not every rise of prices qualifies as inflation. arbitrary measures. It is the inflation of the money volume-paper currency. in effect. one created by government fiat.. from which the effects spread to the market place.over fiscal and central banking policies determine. whether there will be inflation. It generates in the political arena.

AN INFLATION PRIMER total amount of purchasing power people have and are ready to use. and speculate more freely·than they otherwise would. inflation is a condition of the economy in which a rising volume of created money brings about rising production costs. colleges. year after year since 1933. almost without interruption. hotels. The money circulation is accelerated. At that. the consumer price index does not account for everything we buy. Moneycreation· is inflationary when the additional purchasing power has no counterpart in goods and services people want to buy-when too much money chases too few goods. and similar luxuries. And 4 . trav~l. the cost of personal services bought by the consumer is understated. and increasing costs of living. It is tailored to the household budget of the "average" worker who spends little on books. Inflation tends to "feed on itself. spend. the average dollar does additional work. higher prices. too. and prices are boosted additionally. it is merely an indication of the trend. The measure is far from exact. And "drift"-upward-our living costs have. CREEPING INFLATION-A· PREVIEW The purchasing power of the dollar is measured by a weighted index number of retail prices related to a base period. People borrow. the stronger the expectation that it will continue. or drift. Hence the definition." The longer it lasts. In other words.

.13 15. Total Assets (billions) $126. .40 9.5 346.4 7. An idea of what inflation means is conveyed by the table.1 22.7 237.6 of Purchasing Power of Dollar 1.6 13. bank deposits.4 10. . .2 437.9 26.31 1.0 0. .INFLATION'S SYNDROME no price index can do justice to changes in the quality of goods we buy or to the price effect of trade-ins. The fixed-dollar-value assets include mortgages.9 197.9 297. .. DETERIORATION OF FIXED-DoLLAR-VALUE ASSETS HELD BY INDIVIDUALS· % Depreciation Year 1940 1941.05 7. Great Barrington.6 2.81 0.89 2.3 313.22 1.3 328.2 4.7 133. .2 4. And these savings of individuals account for about 60 per cent of the annual capital 5 .0 3.25 10.5 283.5 ·Compiled by American Institute for Economic Research. .14 0..02 7.68 1.02 0. . held by individuals.3 3. . .4 13.6 418.0 272.5 12.34 4. the paidfor insurance and social security -claims.25 2.29 1. .4 Total loss $201. . 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951. . savings accounts.6 459.23 3. bonds.0 306.7 162.7 4.9 12.3 5. . 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 .2 290.32 2. . Mass.4 399. . .8 5.16 2.0 41.8 366. etc..09 3.3 140.61 Loss of Purchasing Power of Assets (billions) S 1.7 383.8 6. .

and municipalities grow faster than the respective incomes. The same holds for the biggest debtor. was financed largely by inconvertible paper money-greenbacks. In twenty years they lost a total of $201. the national government. The Civil War. Balancing the budget becomes increasingly difficult. Taxes were negligible by present-day standards. The financial position of all debtor categories is worsening year after year. The average interest. for example. This much is certain: the debts of consumers. charge on its outstanding debt instruments has risen in ten years from 2 per cent to over 3 per cent. That brings us to a most significant aspect of this inflation of ours. farmers. The tax burden falls largely on the lower-middle-income brackets and on business. Its obligations and commitments have accumulated much faster than did the debt "relief" brought about by currency depreciation. By far the greater portion of the public revenue is raised by taxes which suck up more than 25 per cent of the national income. businesses. and the Treasury has to dig ever deeper into the taxpayers' pockets. different from those of the past. the debtors grew richer-or did they really? We shall see.AN INFLATION PRIMER accumulation.5 billionl By that much. One consequence is the difficulty for the average citizen to protect his fortune against the inflation without resorting to hazardous and dubi- 6 . Now. only a fraction of the governmental expenditures is covered by incurring new debt.

In any case. Whether taxes are negligible or high. and ruthless manipulators. it 7 . the higher the taxes to forestall the "gallop" and to correct alleged or real inequities." The one produces trillionaires and quadrillionaires in untold numbers. The German trillionaires were literally wiped out when the currency was stabilized. Heavy taxation takes a great deal of zest out of the inflation. a novel departure in the sad history of inconvertible paper money. the greatest buyer of goods and services.INFLATION'S SYNDROME ous practices.. tion of income saved was lower in the 1950's than in the 1920's. tends to rise faster than its revenues. the operating cost of the government. happy tax-avoiders (evaders). The net result is that people pay more and more taxes in order to lose each time a fraction "only" of their incomes' purchasing power. What the government gives the speculator by windfall profits and the debtor by reductions in the real value of his debt. there is at least one similarity between the "gallop" and the "creep. As to the bulk of our new rich. the larger the deluge of paper money. the government takes back by taxing away much of inflation's dividends-and a great deal of the victimized savers' incomes. (Hence the fact that the propor.) Another consequence of heavy taxation is the "c~eeping" character of the inflation process. The other causes millionaires to pop up from here and there -lucky speculators. However.

or that such development would have no effect sooner or later on the cost of living. Industry's labor costs keep rising even faster. Of course. It has been rising year after year. WHERE DOES THE INFLATION STAND? The inflation of the last twenty-odd years is a matter of record. What matters is the present and prospective behavior of the cost of living. at an average rate of 6 per cent or higher. the cost of living went up again by about 2 per cent.AN INFLATION PRIMER will be interesting to watch where their millions of dollars will end up. boom or recession. And the decisive indicator is the money supply. assure us that the inflation is over. (Have we not heard that before?) Vested interests in and out of Congress actually tell us that "deflation" is what we are up against. In the twelve months ending June 30. the highest monetary authorities. But are we in danger of having more of the same? As this book goes to press. The most imaginative statisticians do not figure on much more'than 2 per cent average annual increase in the physical volume of salable 8 . including the head of the International Monetary Fund. some of the recent wage boosts have not yet produced their induction effects on prices. 1960. it all depends on what one means by such words as inflation and deflation. the number of dollars available for purchases. Few experts doubt that the wage level is still directed upward. at that.

8 150.6 1955 . 246.6 ·Cash in circulation plus net demand and savings deposits. 216. Year Money Supply * (billions) Year Money Supply (billions) 1929 1945 . and this is responsible for the prospect of future 'price inflation. . .7 242. $227. 9 .6 1959 '. The disproportion is patent.INFLATION'S SYNDROME goods and services. $ 55.8 1957 1958 .

II THE "MODUS OPERANDI" OF INFLATION Money originates in one of two ways.000 worth of cotton to a mill in Manchester. However. One way is by depositing gold.000. and a great deal of purchas10 . Add all similar transactions occurring at about the same time. The buyer. the value of which is credited to the depositor on a bank account. $75. PRODUCTIVE CREDIT-MONETIZING REAL PURCHASING POWER As an illustration. England. promises to pay as soon as the consignment arrives. say.000 had been "created" by a stroke of the pen. as it were. Apparently. His deposit account is credited with. he may draw checks on the new deposit. The seller needs money right away and borrows from his local bank by discounting the bill signed by the buyer. $75. let us take a simple case: A New Orleans merchant sells $100.! be it by loaning funds or by purchasing securities (bonds). whose credit is guaranteed by an English bank. the bulk of the nation's "purchasing power" stems from credit extended by banks. Presently.

Actually. business transaction. a maturing loan may be ·paid back~ The total money supply need not be affected at all. it is of the self-liquidating kind. or someone for him.cotton sold were the real purchasing power that was not available at once to the seller. or for a very short time only~ Even if it is affected. really create purchasing power. And the number of such deals is limited for other reasons. The debtor himself must be creditworthy. What the bank did was monetize in advance a commercial claim-to provide temporarily the money that was forthcoming anyway. by the actual sale of new products~ The credit is noninflationary because it has grown out of an honest-to-goodness . often. the backflow in 90 days is assured. had to put up the rest.000 to make the transaction creditworthy. That alone limits the expansion of the money volume for such deals. the bales of.THE "MODUS OPERANDI" OF INFLATION ing power is being put in circulation: Should that not cause a rise in prices? Nothing of the sort will happen through this type of transaction~ The new credit does not generate inflationary expectations. as it is being granted. The bank did not. value for value. the additional dollar balance is matched. Note that the debtor had been credited with only 75 per cent of the sale's value. and not much later either. he. shipping documents 11 . and the deposit will ·be wiped out. Someone had to risk $25.

including the buyer on the other side or his banker who guarantees for him. no difference exists between the two cases. It does not take an experienced. Buying "short treasuries" is a very convenient transaction. If it did. which it does for temporary holding only). the government's credit is better than the merchant's credit. involving no problem of qualitative control. The government is supposed to repay the short-term loan out of tax revenues. "prudent" banker to do this sort of business. . in fact. These qualitative controls) exercised by the prudent banker. One-half the marketable national debt is bor- 12 . INFLATIONARY MONETIZATION Now. mean an "invisible" quantitative restraint that is essential in maintaining a balance between the increase of loans (and deposits) and the growth of marketable output. The government is in debt at the banks and may stay in debt (unless the public buys the short-term debt certificates from the banks. Superficially. productive deal had been consummated. suppose that the government borrows from the bank ona three-month treasury bill. The bank has to be convinced that a genuine. inflation would not occur any more than in the case of a commercial loan. Unfortunately.in which all concerned are beyond doubt. this is not the case. But there is a world of monetary difference.AN INFLATION PRIMER are required.

1960) much larger than the gold reserve: nearly $27 billion the one. the government keeps rolling it over and borrows additionally from time to time. it a counterpart in tax· revenues. It has to. is in all but name a holding company for public securities. not "short" even in name. including the federal reserve banks.THE "MODUS OPERANDI" OF INFLATION rowed from the banking system. with no counterpart in purchasable goods.rm commercial paper. Instead of liquidating its debt to the banks. the b9nds are being held by institutions which paid for them by creating spendable funds. By far the greater part (six-sevenths) of the mass of public debt owed to the banking system is of more than one-year maturity. And the money issued by the banks keeps turning around. The latter's bond portfolio has increased almost l20-fold in less than thirty years and is now (September. the Federal Reserve System now carries virtually no commercial paper at all. Not one of every hundred dollars borrowed by the government13 . The government acquires deposits. The central bank. it did not grow out of commercial transactions that would provide for the money's backflow." and uses them to pay its deficit. representing the monetization of sheer "paper. The purchasing power thus put in circulation stays there. Short or long. Contrary to the original statutes that restricted its operations mainly to the rediscounting of short-te. the last resort of the credit system. Nor has. under $19 billion the other.

the Federal Reserve System is a part of our banking system. it is chiefly because of the great progress achieved by business in reducing costs by technological and organizational economies. Small wonder that prices have doubled-more than doubled. The fundamental import of its function may be shown by reverting to our earlier illustration. have to be paid out whenever the depositors draw checks or ask for cash." or qualitative controls. that limit the individual bank's loaning propensity. if the bank is not to be closed. self-regenerating capital. on the average-since 1939. The deposits." This is his legal and moral duty. Obviously. as one entrusted with the public's money. On top of all the "inhibitions. the New Orleans bank that loaned money on a cotton transaction. it must have enough cash resources available to fulfill such drains as may reasonably be expected. If they did not rise more.AN INFLATION PRIMER whether it was used to stockpile unsalable farm products or to finance global give-away programs -has added anything to the nation's stock of productive. there is one more that should be mentioned: the necessity for the banker to keep his house "liquid. LIQUIDITY-BY INFLATION As a matter of bookkeeping. even the savings. In essence. It is the central organ of the entire credit structure. 14 . it is much more than just another bank.

These "quick assets" are the banker's secondary line of defense. the credit expansion. Thereby.Federal Reserve System. The point is that th~ credit expansion of. so good. So far. is being kept going.THE "MODUS OPERANDI" OF INFLATION The law requires that the member banks keep a fraction of their liabilities deposited at a federal reserve bank as a primary reserve. 30 per cent to be readily available in the shape of "short treasuries." and prudence requires at least another. That is the difference between the rank and file of banks on the one hand·and the central bank on the other. this secondary liquidity consists essentially of treasury obligations. whether sound or not. commercial banks is limited by liquidity considerations. Sheer prudence requires that another fraction should be kept in the form of assets that can be turned quickly into cash. It has the power to do SO. as it has operated since 1933. The rub is that these reserves are literally produced by the. In our system. 15 . Since the law requires (on the average) 10 per cent of the bank's liabilities to be held in '." the bank's ability to create purchasing power is trimmed ~ccordingly. Both create purchasing power.'cash. but the former would soon be stymied (except for gold inflow) if the latter did not provide the ultimate means of payment which keep the deposits convertible into cash and the banks from going broke.2 and it makes ample use of this power.

" enabling them to extend credit to the economy. It "rediscounts" (buys) such short-term commercial paper as the banks may offer. In any case. these securities become equivalent to cash.) Thereby. the Reserve System accomplishes something else that goes far beyond its proper function and begets a nefarious inflationary drift. It makes "advances" to them. the Federal Reserve has three direct methods by which to provide the banks with "liquidity. usually using government obligations as collateral. In the process. the banks acquire balances at a federal reserve bank and their worries over cash reserve requirements are over (for the time being) . certificates. too. (Another $115 billion in up to ten-year maturities are virtually supported. Their monetization by the banks and re-monetization by the Reserve System is the hard core of the process 16 . the proceeds being credited to the bank account of the dealer who sold the obligations. there are some $70 billion available. Treasury bills. U.AN INFLATION PRIMER THE CENTRAL ENGINE OF INFLATION Technically. It does so by creating a safe and secure market for public securities. Or it buys federal securities. the Federal Reserve provides the member banks with their "secondary" reserves as well. if they have any to offer. mostly of the short-term variety. and notes. Within that one-year maturity range alone. in the open market.S. in particular. Indirectly.

1. "Banks" include commercial and mutual savings institutions as well as the Federal Reserve System. 2. too. Especially. but in the statistics they do not appear among the banks. the politicians' "freedom" to run the federal budget into deficits is greatly enhanced when nothing more serious seems to be at stake than throwing a few billions of additional "short treasuries" on the market. it still might go to the length of some $28 billion of new legal money before reaching that limit-which the Congress then might lower again. 17 . savings banks. as it did in 1945.is being diluted-and the door opened for nefarious manipulations. But at this writing. The sole legal limitation of that power is a 25 per cent gold (certificate) reserve requirement against the Federal Reserve System's own notes and deposits.THE "MODUS OPERANDI" OF INFLATION by which the currency. The savings and loan associations are.

for the purchase and sale of federal obligations. and. Neither the Federal Reserve System (and its organ. With this position as a central bank goes the monopoly of issuing legal tender-bank notes.an ordinary business firm. Profit is not their objective. Treasury.S. they constitute the central bank of the nation. with the governments or central banks of foreign countries. Together. the Open Market Committee) nor the twelve reserve banks are banks in the common sense of the word.III THE FOUNTAINHEADS OF INFLATION THE MONEY-PRINTING AUTOMAT The Federal Reserve System is wrapped in forbidding technicalities and regulations. Yet the principles of its operation are so simple as to be within easy reach of the average person who wishes to understand them. They take no deposits from an ·individual or . ·and give very few of them loans. dealing chiefly with the member banks. The federal reserve banks have the privilege of 18 . with the U. with selected security dealers. most of the money they earn goes to the Treasury. as mentioned before.

it may sell treasury obligations to tighten the market and to "up" the rates. past and present. Their bulk stems from the last war. The Treasury does not have to run fresh deficits every year (as it did in the fiscal year 1958-59 to the tune of a peacetime record $12. Or conversely. as it chooses. the balance becomes the reserve. at least $53 billion worth of short paper could still be turned into legal tender! Nothing of the sort 19 . The note goes into circulation. (The nonmembers use as their reserves mostly balances held at member institutions. instead of w~iting for the member banks to ask for money. Treasury securities are the documentary evidence of federal deficits. savings institutions. maturing within one year. But the portfolio of the Reserve System is bulging with treasury securities in lieu of commercial paper. $53 billion were at this writing in commercial banks. The liabilities are created by the member bank borrowing on a treasury bill or similar security and drawing out a dollar note or a dollar balance. on which the member bank "pyramids" its own deposit liabilities. Theoretically. and other private portfolios.) The process is further simplified if the Federal Reserve. All of which is as it should be.THE FOUNTAINHEADS OF INFLATION makingthe money with which to pay for their own liabilities. Of its shortest term marketable debt. pr6ceeds on its own by buying treasury paper on the open market in order to ease the money market and to lower the interest rates.4 billion).

. productive transactions of the self-liquidating type. MANAGED MONEY-THE ONE-WAY ROAD The member banks. 18...AN INFLATION PRIMER would be possible if the central bank would stick to its function. Reserve city banks 20 10 16. 1960 . to repeat. 26 13 Minimum .. All Country Member banks Banks 14 6 7 3 11 5 -Demand deposits minus cash items in process of collection and demand balances due from domestic banks... 1. Assuming an average reserve ratio of one to six.. which has additional powers available to make or to break the inflation-by changing the member banks' reserve requirements. but the monetization of the public debt does not have to go anywhere near the theoretical limit in order to permit a fresh outbreak of price boosts. and monetize only credit instruments which represent genuinely commercial.. as was originally intended. No inflation of runaway dimensions is to be expected (as yet).0 Aug. t New York and Chicago.5 Percentage of Time (Savings) Deposits.. or so.. And the flood can rise even without further debt monetization by the central bank.. Actual. 20 ... must cover their MEMBER BANK RESERVE REQUIREMENTS Percentage of Net Demand Deposits * Central reserve city banks t Maximum . the monetization of $1 billion permits an additional credit expansion of $6 billion.

The rule has been relaxed to permit an over-all 25 per cent minimum and could be relaxed further at the 21 . 1960. Within the broad legal limits. the pertinent question. is answered in the accompanying table. It used to be mandatory for the Federal Reserve to hold gold equal to at least 40 per cent of its outstanding notes and 35 per cent of its deposit liabilities. but the bank reserves were not restored to their previous levels. they can cut the reserve requirements or raise them. The performance of the Board was repeated on the eve of the next presidential election: by September. boosting their lending capacity by a hefty $9 billion. the member banks' lending capacity was boosted by another $3. But what fraction? This. This helped to bring about an unprecedented borrowing boom. to overcome a mild recession (and to strengthen Mr." In June.THE FOUNTAINHEADS OF INFLATION deposits by holding a fraction of. the Board of Governors lowered the banks' reserve requirements. 1954. Eisenhower's chances come November). This sort of elasticity pervades the whole monetary system. Under the gold standard the minimum gold reserve against the central banks' liabilities was permanently fixed.6 billion. them in balances at their respective reserve banks. Note the broad range of discretionary power in the hands of the managers (who may be under the thumbs of the politicians). This is called an "elastic currency.

still less to buy government bonds. With the blessing of the Federal Reserve authorities. inflation. the Reserve System has virtually every power to maintain monetary discipline and to stem the. as of 1962. No more monetary inhibitions! ·Floors may be lowered and ceilings raised on short notice. one would think. This alone adds another 0. it permitted the banks to count the surplus cash in their tills as part of their legal reserves. Since 1954 it has been raised four times in less than six years.AN INFLATION PRIMER whim of Congress. Also. the political heat is put on the Federal Reserve Board to abandon the "bills only" policy-it should buy long-term bonds as weIll And the Treasury pleads for the right to sell more than the permissible $5 billion bonds direct to the central bank-to push them down its throat. The legal ceiling over the public debt was to be raised in a national emergencyonly. It could skim off 22 . as it were. The power of reducing the legal' reserve requirements is dynamite. INFLATION BY "DEBT MANAGEMENT" On paper.5 per cent to the big banks' potential and an estimated 3 per cent to that of the ~mall ones. it has cut the requirements for the big banks in New York and Chicago to the level of the reserve city banks. It is under no legal obligation to grant credits to the member banks. The Congress thinks otherwise. To clinch it all.

1951. instead. or to hold interest rates down. gentlemen's agreem. our central bank has been pursuing. The mere refusal to grant credit to the banks in proportion to the expansion of their loans may spell the end of an ominous inflationary boom. they are not permitted to rise. interest rates may rise or fall without interference. in any case. rain or shine. had the former lived up to its implicit part of the deal. The debt monetization continues. It did nothing of the sort. The Treasury should also have proceeded to convert a substantial slice of its short-term debt into longer maturities. Ever since. nor bond prices to fall. with interruptions few and far between. to a level that would curb the inflation for any appreciable length of time.ent between the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board liberated the latter from the selfassumed war-time obligation to monetize the national debt. The 1951 agreement between the Treasury and the Federal Reserve authorities woul~ have made possible a truly "flexible" policy. In principle. The March. the volume of short maturities has been increasing practically 23 . There should have been no more deficits in the budget.THE FOUNTAINHEADS OF INFLATION the liquidity of the money market and force interest rates upward. no major deficit. In actual practice. a "flexible" policy: it commonly adjusts its discount rate-the fee it charges on its loansto the market rather than forces a rate on the market. supposedly.

There is the crux of the situation." "Price stability. What is being managed is a progressive inflation. William McChesney Martin. the central bank cannot let the credit of the over-indebted national administration go to pot. stymied from the outset. despite the fact that there were ample occasions-recessions-when low interest rates obtained on the capital market and conversion operations would have been perfectly feasible.. This is called Treasury-Federal-Reserve-co-operation-in-managing-the-national-debt. Instead. They are stymied for the simple reason that the Reserve System is "a creature of Congress" that can set down the law. with full employment and continued growth" is the slogan to which the monetary authorities pay unrelenting lip service. The heads of the Reserve System have no choice but to serve the fiscal interest. despite their good intentions. rationalize the inflationary policies forced upon them into a policy of maintaining an "orderly market" for federal securities and guaranteeing general "stability. which is what would happen if the "printing press" would cease to support a prodigal Treasury. Every stabilization attempt undertaken by the Federal Reserve authorities is. Jr. The latter they rarely do voluntarily.AN INFLATION PRIMER year after year. In any case. 24 . or resign. they. imposed by the Congress. How that is accomplished is illustrated by a recent statement by Mr. Chairman of the Board of Governors.

Since mid-1958.5 billion of their required reserves. the Reserve System supplied the commercial banks with some $2 billion of reserve funds.5 billion..) T~e peacetime record 13 per cent annual rate of·bank-deposit expansion coincided with a 16 per cent ($14 billion) deficit in the national budget. the system released for the use of member banks about $1..July 1958. He took pride in the many devices by which the national currency had been <j. Monetary expansion from February through July stimulated by this Federal Reserve action was at an exceptionally rapid rate-at an annual rate of 13 per cent for all deposits.THE FOUNTAINHEADS OF INFLATION before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress. It was followed by a 12 per cent decline of our gold stock. raising security margin requirements 25 . and to finance a commercial bank credit expansion of almost $8 billion. (Italics supplied... November 1957--. Through three successive reserve requirement reductions in late Winter and early Spring of last year. was enough to enable member banks to reduce their discounts at the Reserve Banks from $800 million to about $100 million. there were four reductions in Federal Reserve Bank discount rates~ from 3Y2 per cent to 1% per cent.iluted in the first nine months after the onset of the 1957-58 recesSIon: From late Fall 1957 through April 1958. to offset sales of gold to foreign countries amounting to about $1. Through continuing open market operations from late Fall of 1957 to early last Summer. the Federal Reserve has taken some easy steps to drain the "water" from under the boom. The total amount of reserve funds supplied by the system to commercial banks over the nine months.

not only did the bill purchasing restart. Moreover. and converting operations impede time and again the policy of the central bank. Its borrowing.1 as mentioned before. but the discount rate was reduced again to 3 per cent. at a time when the European central banks were raising their rates. the security margin requirements were lowered from 90 to 70 per cent and the reserve requirements of the (over-lent) member banks cut by $605 million. reducing somewhat the credit it extends. When one arm of the government tries to restrain reckless borrowing by raising the cost and the other arm promotes such borrowing by providing cheap 26 . the volume of its outstanding credits-the monetary base on which the inflation is built-had been increased by $2. The Federal Reserve System's freedom of action is limited for a further reason: it has to contend with the fact that the national government is a large-scale operator on the capital market. debt rolling-over. the Administration is in the business of lending money and guaranteeing credits. In 1958. and upping the discount rate gradually to 4 per cent. But just previously. By 1960.AN INFLATION PRIMER from 60 to 90 per cent. the total of loans extended and underwritten amounted to $43 billion. Also. That helped to enlarge the money volume (cash in circulation and bank deposits) by $14 billion and to rekindle the inflationary boom.2 billion in 14 months.

1. at 86 per cent.THE FOUNTAINHEADS OF INFLATION funds. just four percentage points below the 1929 high! 27 . 1960. the result is irresponsibility and sheer confusion. The loans-to-demand deposits ratio of the big New York banks stood in August.

1959. Come they do. certificates. not even tax revenues-in effect.6 billion.. This house of paper rests on the central bank's readiness. to monetize the IOU's which represent no productive effort. be it out of the Treasury's fresh deficits and the exchange of new "shorts" (bills. or out of the accumulated portfolios of the public. coming to maturity. In th~ ten months to the end of April. nues to cover them. with more of the same to come. no salable goods.IV THE VICIOUS SPIRALS THE PARABLE OF THE HORSE AND THE TROUGH The Congress votes expenditures without reve. and notes) for longer bonds. The banks convert many of them into active purchasing power and draw from the Federal Reserve System the cash balances for legal reserves. voluntary or otherwise. The Administration finances the deficit by issuing IOU's that are the equivalent of cash. the bulky volume of outstanding marketable short-term treasury paper grew by no less than $23.2 billion available for monetization by the Reserve System. all but $0. no gold. not to pay but to be renewed. A continued process of this sort is bound to bring about a trend of rising prices unless the 28 . nothing but promises.

Some economists still deny that rising prices have anything to do with the quantity of money thrown on the market. to lead the horse to water-quite another thing to make it drink. They argue that the funds accumulate in the banks. A heretofore submarginal demand for a bank loan beco$. Even now. Yet it was many years before the public showed signs of awakening to the inflation threat and to the role the money element plays in it. which do not rush to make loans just because they have the money on hand. they say. a variety of arguments is being offered to evade the money problem by blaming the rise of prices on symptoms of the inflation rather than on the underlying cause. It is one thing. which never drink~ more water than it currently needs. real or imaginary.es creditworthy when future earning prospects brighten-as they may in the light of a sustained flow of purchasing power in the channels of tr4de. If he did. It may take time. just how lorg did it take before the horse developed a "legitimate" thirst? The parable does not do jus~ice to the horse. There must be a legitimate demand growing out of real production to induce the banks to lend. but an excessive money supply cannot fail to increase the 29 .THE VICIOUS SPIRALS excess money vanishes into hoarding (which it is not likely to do). But men plan by future prospects. One wonders whether the expert who argues this way has ever taken a horse to the trough.

Of course. prices were "frozen" by controls. price movements have lagged behind wage increases. and they too keep mounting. Notice at once in the table that the data do not include fringe benefits paid by employers. Ever since. whereas the price level took a 40 per cent beating. As the controls were scrapped toward the end of 1945. paralleling simultaneous wage boosts. but pay rates could not be restrained. within two years. as summarized in the following table. Still fewer seem to be aware of the causal relationships. and labor is the number-one ingredient 30 . These may amount to as much as 20 per cent of the wage bills. COST-PUSH INFLATION? When prices rise. What they do see is a sequence that has become virtually fixed: wages jump first. a 30 per cent toll of the dollar's purchasing power in retail trade. inflation· took. during World War II. Hourly wage rates fell slightly between 1929 and 1933. Then. costs may have a decisive influence on prices. wages leading the procession. when it is used to liquidate an excessive volume of private debt.AN INFLATION PRIMER demand for goods and services except in a depression. commodity prices limp behind ·them. But pretty soon both started to rise. few people take the trouble to look up the statistical data about debt monetization and bank-credit expansion.

Korean inflation June 1950 .1 100.. Per cent change . .2 115.3 Average Hourly Earnings (Mfg.6 $1...453 +11. calling in turn for compensation by higher wages.9 115....1 102..6 $1..2 115...5 102..6 104.. June 1950 ..5 100.8 110..9 $1.0 +41.599 +10... Per cent change ..2 101.....4 +3..8 114.1 Industrial commodities 72.2 104.S.....3 114.7 116.. Department of Commerce..5 115...8 101. Bureau of Labor Statistics.2 116. If labor's remuneration goes up faster than its productivity.003 $1. January 1948 .59 $1.6 125..0 102..2 102....5 101.0 +8.453 $1.2 -4. Per cent change . prices tend to follow. But why do wages rise? There are two stock answers in (political) circulation. June 1951..5 +50..4 123.. and a vicious cost-price spiral gets under way. June 1958 .2 +13..2 110. "Relative stability" January 1948 . Creeping price rises June 1955 .3 101..0 $1.4 -Source: U....8 +0...) $1.... Per cent change . All commodities 69.....THE VICIOUS SPIRALS of costs. labor merely claims its share in the rising profits which business MAJOR PRICE MOVEMENTS AND FACTORY WAGES SINCE WORLD WAR II- (Indexes: 1947-49 = 100) Wholesale Prices Consumer Prices Postwar inflation January 1946 .3 -4. draws by the upward "administration" of prices and by the ever rising "productivity" of the work- 31 .3 +30.2 +0....302 $1.....8 +8.. "Relative stability" June 1951 .1 +8.. June 1955 ..1 +14. According to the one.3 119..302 +29. Per cent change .. presented largely by union spokesmen.12 77.4 +13..1 110..87 +17.87 $2..6 -0.8 110...7 +8.

to be· supported by debt monetization. How can one forbid unions to co-operate. the member is. The large unions (and some of the small ones) do have a monopolistic position. 32 . What has distinguished the American labor market since the New Deal legislation of the 1930's is the loss by the worker of his right to choose the men to represent him. should the geographic or professional lines be drawn to distinguish the monopolistic from the legitimate kind of union without being arbitrary and depriving the workers of their fundamental right to organize and to protect their legitimate interests? Industrial conflicts are as old as the modern industrial system. This supposedly causes the price inflation. According to another school of thought. indeed. though not because of the right to organize and to bargain on an industry-wide scale. or to bargain for himself. Wages went up during booms before there was collective bargaining by unions. Whether there is one union covering the entire steel industry or twentyfive organizations in as many districts or plants makes little difference in bargaining power. which then provokes fresh credit demand. Once a union is recognized by the National Labor Board as the bargaining agency. the trade-unions enjoy monopoly power and use it ruthlessly. We start on this second theory. either in requesting identical pay boosts or in going on strike simultaneously? Where.AN INFLATION PRIMER ers.

the unions violate written and unwritten rules of the free market. In a majority of states even the "right to work" can be denied the employee who refuses to join a union and to pay dues. a monopolistic position is achieved. it seems. extortion and collusion with the underworld has existed in the V. actually protects them~1 Yet the monopoly power of the unions is not the decisive force that drives labor costs in the stratospheric direction." The unions. are above the law. and mass picketing. And the law.fresh money shots-in-thearm? Patently. still higher wages. violence. the magic circle of higher wages. coerced into accepting a leadership that may be in the hands of racketeers. Just how high could the general level of wages-not just in individual industriesgo in the face of consumer resistance to higher prices. Referring to two of the most powerful unions. unfair secondary boycotts. Hence. extortion from employers. strengthened by resort to the intimidation of nonconforming members. would break at the ultimate hurdle.A. use of strikebreakers... a Senate committee's (minority) report stated in early 1960: "Corruption. misappropriation of funds. or its administration. and so on. bribery. the consumer's ability to pay.THE VICIOUS SPIRALS in effect. higher prices. if people's pocketbooks were not replen- ished again and again by. and corrupt and criminal practices. as in the Teamsters.. By their methods of restraining trade. The trouble is that the total of in33 .W.

foreign aid. not the workers'. social security. It· uses ruthlessly the vote-commanding power of a superorganization. road building. commodity stockpiling. supplemented and supported by debt monetization. in the political arena where the unions' ultimate responsibility enters.AN INFLATION PRIMER comes is being artificially maintained and expanded. interest-into national eminence. If consumer incomes falter. The cause lies deeper. the government steps in by disbursing funds or guarantees for public works. and many other welfare objectives. thus setting bank credit on the expansion road. and "contracyclical" financial contraptions come out of the government's credit and the taxpayers' pockets. They are a prime transmission line that connects the money inflation with the price inflation. handouts. farm subsidies. the price tends to go up. public housing. The unions are the prime moving and lobbying force behind the official spending and money-manipulating policies which result in over-full employment and labor shortage. That does it: Rising labor costs are not the ultimate cause of the inflationary drift. plus the influence provided by the multimillion dollars of members' dues at the bosses' 34 . That is what the nation's strongest pressure group puts over with an uncanny ability to sublimate its own unenlightened interest-the union officials'. The open and concealed subsidies. When the demand is strong and the supply short. mortgage credits.

BUILT-IN INFLATION Inflation is being brought about by the combined efforts of pressure groups in and out of the Congress. all of which is negated in the long run by union policies.. mining. A "liberal" intelligentsia contributes its share in confounding a confused public.THE VICIOUS SPIRALS free disposal. veterans.) But organized labor delivers the strongest. special interests in construction. and a host of other lobbies--. double or treble the rate at which the real output of the nation is growing. educationalists. bureaucrats. and most aggressive lobbying force on the inflationary side. 35 .that pull the inflationary strings for the benefit of their respective niches in the welfare stafe (while preaching the gospel of free enterprise). Such groups are largely responsible for current budget deficits as well as for inducing the central bank to monetize debt and to sustain an excessive flow of purchasing power-at a cumulative rate averaging 6 per cent or more. steady employment at good pay. and shipbuilding. shipping. mortgage lenders. (Some literati still judge industrial capitalism in the light of the bygone sweatshops or of monopolies predating the Sherman and Clayton acts. there are other pressure groupsgroups of organized business and farm. more savings to finance more work opportunities. To be sure. exporters. The worker's interest is lower product prices. most vocal.

Nor is that the only vicious circle set in motion by the ceaseless or recurrent process of debt monetization. wage costs are bound to rise when the growing money supply appears on the market place as an artificially boosted demand for labor's services. boom or recession.AN INFLATION PRIMER Unions or no unions. The cumulative effect 36 . a consequence of higher money incomes and of a deceptive prosperity. Higher pay (often for less work) and more fringe benefits in one industry with rising labor productivity spreads to others in which no progress in efficiency obtains. As prices climb and the inflationary mentality spreads. Employers' resistance to union claims is stymied in an economic climate saturated with the expectation that the money tokens are readily forthcoming-if the consumer will not pay. And every rise in costs that helps to force prices upward becomes embedded in the price structure by way of comtractural escalators~ automatically adjusting wage rates to each fractional increase of the cost-of-living index. the government will. Business is "pushed" into labor-saving devices in order to economize on labor costs. and it is being "pulled" into false capacity expansion by the growing demand for products. A most significant effect of the wage-price inflation is the temporary incentive for new (mal-) investments in plant and equipment. a further motive becomes operative: the urge to hedge on the inflation.

THE VICIOUS SPIRALS would be a runaway inflation. consent If wages rise by ten per cent It puts a choice before the nation Of unemployment or inflation. The choice is between monetary stability on the one hand. as the advocates of 2-5 per cent annual price increases pretend. by running up against labor and capital shortages and losing its flexibility. or nearly all. With jerks and screeches. The choice is not between depression and inflation.or not to join private organizations. and inflation with recurrent mass unemployment on the other. Under the cloak of immunity from the penal code. An overheated economy burns its bearings. But the law of supply and demand asserts itself: 5 per cent of the (overpaid) labor force stays unemployed in the midst of super- 37 . In the jingle of K. the unions proceed to drive the economy toward inflation. infl~tion progresses. from the la'"ws of corporation and monopoly regulation. as it were. with each interruption sharper and more painful than the last. E. if the process were not interrupted every third year or so by a recession. even from the Constitution's provision for the individual's liberty to join . Boulding (1951): We all. while overexpansion boomerangs in declining profits. But there is a price to be paid. The fiscal and monetary "stabilizers" prescribed by the (unwritten) code of inflation are in full operation.

The 1959 labor legislation somewhat moderates unions' power. 1. 38 .AN INFLATION PRIMER booms. etc. and $135 billion total public expenditures a year.H grievance procedures. "liberal" credits. under the cloak of the union shop. often even the courts. and they are practically exempted from prosecution even for crimi· nal action. favor unsavory union practices. State and local authorities. They still can control labor efficiency under the protection of "work rules. though not essentially. The unions remain in control of the labor supply.

250. since 1938. To eliminate the last shred of doubt about the ultimate and effective cause of inflation. Eccles. but the rocking helps to sink the boat. sparked by the debt-monetization practices of the central bank under the self-assumed function." Both are consequences. which is to permit Washington to indulge in fiscal irresponsibility. former chairman of the Federal Reserve 39 . There is no such thing as an inflation by "wage-push. not ultimate causes.000 steel workers put up extravagant claims. 1959.V RIDING ON THE INFLATION CREST SPREADING THE INFLATION Inflation is a monetary phenomenon pure and simple. estimated as a billion dollar "package." or by "profit-push. It is not rocking the boat that makes the storm. of "maintaining an orderly market" for government securities." Marriner S. consider the following. In April. The cause is the excessive volume of credit. No such function was originally intended or written into the statutes of the Federal Reserve System. the union of 1. It is a pretext and fancy name to cover up the reality.

unless the additional costs are somehow offset. markets and prices would break and massive unemployment develop. rising prices would call for further wage-cost increases. Nor would the consumers want to deplete their savings or default on their taxes and debts. The cost-push theory of inflation assumes that costs are the sole. The enhanced wages could not be paid unless the banks came to the rescue of the public and the central bank to the rescue of the banks. The history of inflation offers innumerable cases which show that the most elaborate and automatic spirals cease to operate as soon as the credit flow to feed them stops. too. The point is that an important wage boost tends to give the entire wage structure an upward impetus." And that would not be the end of it. 1 But where would a majority of entrepreneurs find the cash with which to pay? They could scarcely have the money tucked away to add 10 per cent or more to their labor costs. Short of a substantial shot-in-the-arm.AN INFLATION PRIMER Board (and a one-time rabid New Dealer) commented: "If all of the other workers of Americamore than 65 million-were to demand and receive these same benefits. 40 . determining factor of prices. and so on. There would be nothing 'creeping' about the resulting inflation. or main. the price level will tend to rise. and. it would add 52 billion dollars to the cost of goods produced. as if demand had nothing to do with it.

They are not built in by law or by policy. and so on. built up by contributions of the "insured. indeed. the reserves of the Social Security program. Guaranteed wages guarantee nothing. They. long-term wage agreements.RIDING ON THE INFLATION CREST What about subsidized prices? Surely the unions are not to be blamed for the fact that in the country with the world'sgreatest surplus of farm output-and with official farm stockpiles worth some $10 billion-basic farm-commodity prices are up to 50 per cent higher than they are on the world markets." consist of government bonds that would have to be sold-to the banks. For example. cartelized (minimum) prices. Social Security benefits. They are just some of many pretexts for inflating the currency. guaranteed annual wages.provide nothing of the sort. they are part and parcel of the free mar41 . redeemable savings bonds. There are. they merely imply that there will be sufficient cash flow forthcoming to sustain them. have been presented to the public as built-in stabilizers to provide cushions against.a depression. stabilizers that can stop the inflation. presumably. THE FALLACY OF BUILT-IN STABILIZERS The money-printing press is the source of the wage-push and of all other inflationary phenomena. including the fake devices to protect the economy against a depression.

THE PRODUCTIVITY DEBATE Coming back to the spiral: time and again the unions claim that their wage demands need not affect costs.AN INFLATION PRIMER ket's automatism. beau- 42' . whether or not there is an improvement in efficiency. The great automobile maker beat the gun by offering in 1952 an annual productivity wage escalator-a memorable case for big business co-operating with a big union at the expense of the public. too. For good measure. Barbers. supported by statistics to show the rising "productivity" of labor. that wages rise in all industries. There was a byplay. the claim was confirmed by no less an authority than General Motors Corporation. and they are very effective. as soon as the cycle goes in reverse. selling its employees' freedom of choice down the union river. a money outpour is let loose and the genuine stabilizers are swept away. Output per man-hour or man-day has risen and keeps rising in many branches of manufacturing. in the first place. GM agreed to the (compulsory!) union shop. All they are asking for is more money for more output. The trouble is. as shown by the recurrence of recessions which interrupt the spiraling process of inflation. But the productivity argument is a rationalization to surround labor's inflation-borne power of coercion with a halo of economic (and ethical?) sanctity. However.

house painters. it is most likely because of technological or organizational progress brought about by fresh capital investment. repair men. If it takes but one man to do the job of two. "services" take a growing share in total employment and lead in the successive increases of the cost of living. and morticians get wage boosts with no perceptible increase of output per man-hour. In fact. but it has no more to say about labor's contribution to the productive process than has the ratio of energy units used (or of dollars of capital applied) to the volume of output. In a plant. The very concept of labor productivity is open to question. Is physical productivity significant. or better utilization of resources rather than by any effort of the workers who attempt to reap the benefits. new inventions. ratios between labor input and product output become irrelevant if qualitative product improvements occur or if the product changes altogether.RIDING ON THE INFLATION CREST ticians. 2 What is meant by labor productivity? The number of physical units produced per man-day or man-shift is a convenient statistical device to measure efficiency. is it the average output of all workers or of the actual machine operators only that matters? For an industry as a whole.average productivity mean in the face of vast differences' among· individual plants? Over a period of time. florists. what does. or productivity in terms of dollars? The 43 . managerial skill.

if not extorting. the seventh in fourteen years. Exact measurement is impossible. he buys peace for a while. In the one case. between 1956 and 1958. manager. or engineer who may be truly responsible for the enhanced productivity.AN INFLATION PRIMER pitfalls are legion. In the workers' eyes. LABOR DISINCENTIVES BY INFLATION The spurious remuneration of labor's "productivity" is worlds apart from true incentive wages. (The latter rise at times faster than do even the wage bills. by mid-1959. often paying more money for less work. More is at stake than wage rates. Suffice it to mention that. labor is frequently paid for someone else's accomplishment. the credit for their raise in income goes to the bargaining. there is a distinct relationship between work done and and payment received. the enterpreneur pays for more or better work accomplishment. salesman. wages in the basic steel industry went up 19 per cent while eutput per man-hour declined 7~ per cent. and little or no credit is given to the capitalist. By the latter. more also than fringe benefits. union that exploits the inflation-swelled demand for the products. In the other case. the industry was hit by a nation-wide strike. By the former.) More is at stake than 44 . The outcome does not even provide durable peace between management and labor.

2 billion. reach extraordinary intensity under creeping inflation.. In 1956. . 64 86 48. . . and similar devices. and an excessive rate of labor turnover. 45 . If costs per unit of output mount despite huge capital investments in ever more productive equipment. to productivity. reminiscent of the medieval guild system.8 201 185~6 211 190 214 * ·Complete data not available. a high level of labor absenteeism. . this erosion of productivity is accompanied by slowed-down labor effort. For the period from 1939 %Increase in %Increase in %Increase in Average per Hourly Earnings Hourly Earnings Man-Hour without Fringe plus Fringe Productivity _ _ B_en_e_fit_s_ Benefits Basic steel industry. PRODUCTIVITY AND CAPACITY TO PAY Wage boosts bear a very tenuous relationship. if any. They amount to providing-on the railroads. it is because of a further reason: the union-sponsored restrictive practices. . spreading cost increases throughout the economy. . Featherbedding. . total fringe benefits paid by employers amounted to $12. These practices (legalized by the courts1) frustrate technological progress. . all typical by-products of overfull employment. . Railroads. make-work. . . the ultimate source of higher wages and lower pricesl Time and again. especially-permanent jobs at full pay to men who work productively only part of the time or not at all. All manufacturing industries.RIDING ON THE INFLATION CREST disputes and strikes.

The technique is the same almost everywhere: the use of their inflation-borne. carrying. and you will find that labor productivity outpaced them. This is called wage inflation. If labor's "productivity" does not justify claims for higher wages.9 per cent net annual increase of unit labor costs. it ought to be called: inflation carried on the "wings" of the unions.3 per cent and per man-hour productivity increases by 2. that you have to pay me simply because 46 . the following figures of the Bureau of Labor Statistics speak clearly. The union bosses are never at a loss for an answer. Since the 1930's generating. unchecked power to extort monopolistic results. but they also carry the virus and accelerate its spread. and fringe benefits. That is what happened to American manufacturing over a sixteen-year period." which means. in essence. the unions still may fall back on "ability to pay. and accelerating the inflation seem to be their outstanding functions in the whole industrial world. The unions not only generate the inflation through political action.3 per cent. Look at real wages-money wages corrected for changes in the dollar purchasing powerthey say.AN INFLATION PRIMER to 1956. then the increased cost of living will do-increased since the last wage blowup that preceded the price rises. the result is a 2. If that argument is too transparent. The fact is that when hourly pay rises at the annual rate of about 5.

nor do prices. Actually. while the unsheltered get less. Heads I win.RIDING ON THE INFLATION CREST you have. the average "retail" price increase was 35. or increase wages most effectively. 2. enough money to give me what I want. 47 .4 per cent for services and 15. or escalate themselves to a position of neutrality. 1958. my wages have to be raised in any case. June. What if profits decline? Why. 1. tails you lose. get more and more of total income. or are supposed to have. Between 1949 and June. wages do not rise in a uniform fashion. Monthly Review. of course. "Those who can raise prices most readily. 1959.9 per cent for merchandise."-Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Sooner or later. The result may be fewer jobs and/or more intensive work requirements. Inordinately rising unit labor costs cannot be offset indefinitely by economies in production and distribution. If prices are raised. of shorter hours. the cost of higher wages falls ultimately on the consumer. labor "pays" by what is called technological unemployment: higher wages for fewer workers. That includes the 48 . and the financing difficult. of two men doing one man's job. or on the taxpayer if the government steps in with subsidies. and so on? There are several possibilities.VI THE CONSUMER (AND TAXPAYER) BE DAMNED WHO PAYS THE BILL? Who carries the cost of inflated wages and fringe benefits. Some unions resist stricter work rules and new equipment. The added cost may be offset by technological progress and labor-saving devices. or it may come out of profits. Labor-saving devices may not be available or may be too expensive. The incentive for their installation is lacking if the Inanagement realizes that any economies achieved are bound to call for fresh wage requests. it may be shifted on the consumer by higher prices or lower quality of goods.

if not of his freedom. The employ~r may recoup the increased labor costs by drawing public subsidies. Mr. and the unions take a share of the worker's pocketbook. taxes rise. And who pays those. real income.THE CONSUMER (AND TAXPAYER) BE DAMNED workers and their families. Again. Except in revolutionary situations. Strikes mean lost wages. As the price inflation spreads. the losses the employer suffers mean less demand for capital goods and less employment. The industry is dying slowly but surely. by extorting ever more wage dollars. that the process of inflating incomes is in itself expensive. of course. by all historic evidence. It may take some time when the inflation is the creeping kind. either absolutely or percentagewise. due to strikes as has the United States in this post-World 'War II era. incidentally. When it accelerates. In that case. the gain rapidly turns. John L. to the 49 . their dollar gains tend to evaporate. no country has ever lost as many labordays. Lewis raised the unit costs so high that the consumer turned to substitute fuels. that is the consumer refuses to pay the higher price and the market shrinks. labor as a whole sooner or later pays the bill. into a loss of. It should be remembered. for the wage increases. if not the people engaged in production? There is one way. shortages caused by strikes raise the cost of living. Suppose the demand for the product is elastic. Anthracite is a textbook example. partially or fully. and so are the jobs.

in particular. (To do so is "good politics. However. if profits were lowermonopoly profits. Under the Sherman and Clayton acts it has a legal. It connotes supply restriction in order to exploit the buyer. on the contention that as a matter of equity the "high" profits should be trimmed in favor of the workers. openly or by innuendo and insinuation. The idea seems to be always present in the back of certain minds that wages could be substantially higher. status. Big Business is supposed to enjoy "oligopoly"quasi-monopoly exercised by the few-or to "administer prices. economists have invented two novel terms which carry by innuendo the' same connotation. Proof is. that (1) in industries such as steel. That is the laborite (and self-styled liberal) battlecry: Let the capitalist pay. to get "something for nothing": by taking the pay raise out of profits. or rather illegal. supposedly. The Department of Justice seems to be anxious to prosecute every case.AN INFLATION PRIMER trade union way of thinking." Bigness somehow enables the largest firms of each industl\Y to co-operate in controlling the respective markets. auto50 . All arguments of the unions converge. and without inflationary repercussions.") No one but an outright Communist charges American business in general with illegal conspiracy. THE POT CALLS THE KETTLE BLACK "Monopoly" is a nasty word. real or alleged.

THE CONSUMER (AND TAXPAYER) BE DAMNED mobiles. two to four of the largest corporations control 50 per cent and more of the output. 51 . the others must follow the "leader. tobacco." or lose out. also. In fact. sharpest competition prevails among "leaders. and aluminum." The truth is that without governmental protection scarcely any industrial monopoly could carryon clandestinely in the face of prosecution. that "administered" list prices may represent either the outcome of competition or mere balloons ~o test the market forces. stockpiling.1 The truth is. In reality. (2) they sell their wares at virtually identically fixed prices. it is the government that limits competition and fosters monopolies by high tariffs. 2 The truth is. Under free competition the price is set by the cheapest producer whose output is large enough to affect the supply. there are no ingrained oligopolies or administered prices on the American scene.and many other policies.O power in the price-making process. except where the government promotes them. The truth is that bigness per se provides IJ. following the "leader". finally-and this is economics on the (much neglected) undergraduate level-that price uniformity is an essential characteristic of the competitive market. and competition by substitutes. military procurement. price supports. consumer resistance. subsidized housing. (3) prices are being "listed" or announced by the big suppliers. .

This is one example of many. union spokesmen say.vs and exempt from the provisions of the criminal codes as well. and intensity the like of which never before existed in the United States. ironically. What makes for "high" (pre-tax) profits. too. goes a long way toward putting over what they advocate. in alliance with the "construction lobby" of the business interests involved. They enjoy a monopoly power of a width. There is such power in operation. The big unions have it-often the small ones. They use it ruthlessly" without any concern about the consumer or even about the future employment of their own members. one may ask? The answer is. The unions are 52 . if profits were not excessive. PROFIT INFLATION Wage increases need not raise prices. not subject to the antitrust la. They are most determined advocates of public housing and of credit (FHA) guarantees for private-dwelling construction.AN INFLATION PRIMER Monopoly power is the ability of the supplier to exact a price higher than that prevailing under competitive conditions. Time and again. This gives a great boost to the building industry-and more profits to the firms engaged in it. Their political influence. the unions come out for public spending projects. breadth. that the unions themselves are largely responsible.

A standar~ bargaining argument is: Why do you. political pressures have been to blame. To a large extent. There has been much comment on the lack of employer resistance against demands for wage 'raises. Some union leaders outdo the exporter. the general public.THE CONSUMER (AND TAXPAYER) BE DAMNED most vocal supporters of almost any special (profit) interest that can be promoted at the expense of the consumer or the taxpayer. management disputes. whose pocketbook is directly affected. They are motivated.) Futile expectation! Greedy pressure groups may fight each other. One would expect organized labor to object to farm subsidies which are ~ real burden on both the living costs and the tax bills 'of the urban masses. in order to secure employment at higher wages for the union members-and more profits for the employers. a cynical sort of co-operation prevailed in labor. by humanitarian sentiment for their fellow man. the employer. they are brothers under the political skin when it comes to the common enemy. in enthusiasm for our interminable foreign-aid program. much too often.. or so they claim. object to raising wages when 52 per cent of the added cost is deductible from the corporate income tax 53 . which hurt that same foreigner's exports. But often. But no bleeding hearts inhibit their simultaneous lobbying for higher tariffs and quotas. (The number of organized farm hands is too small to be of any weight.

a large sector of business itself does not even layaway enough reserves to provide for staying in business. by distending the demand for consumer and producer goods. still less to expand it. considering the decline of the money's purchasing power and the progressive rate of personal income taxation. the average real return on shares of stocks lags far behind real remuneration for the average labor-hour. if the profit margin per unit of turnover remains the same. A sellers' market is a short way of saying that "too much money chases too few goods. s Atthat. creates the sellers' markets on which rising costs can be unloaded and profits maintained. Insufficient reserves for the replacement 54 . the gross return of business-in dollars of declining purchasing power-cannot go but upward.AN INFLATION PRIMER and the remaining 48 per cent is easily shifted on the consumer's income? Let someone else worry about the fact that the Treasury's revenues may decline and its expenditures increase. In any case." In the course of a price inflation. or even increased. margins did drop in the last decade. by promoting price inflation. Yet. Above all. the unions promote the dollar volume of sales. Actually. or does not fall too much. situations are bound to arise in which groups of entrepreneurs and speculators reap extraordinary windfalls. but not enough to offset the effect of a growing volume of dollar sales. it is the inflation of the money supply that.

Government orders on a cost-plus base often are another rich source of rewards for no-risk-taking. according to an analysis of balance sheets by the First National City Bank. This has been well brought out by Walter Adams 'and Horace M. as others. up and down. Corporate (after-tax) profits decreased from $20 billion to $18 billion a year. wages and salaries (including fringe benefits) paid by corporations increased from $90 billion to $158 billion." reported the First National City Bank. New York.900 per worker in the country's largest corporations.) Extraordinary (pre-tax) profits of the riskless kind. 1959). "The price on steel bars got changed as frequently as those on men's suits. are sparked by the inflation. Capital gains remain largely on paper until either the estate levies or a depression wipes them out. From 1948 to the end of 1958. in violation of the free market's prime distributive rule. Gray in Monopoly in America (New York: The Macmillan Company. If profits can be earned without incurring risk. why not wages without doing work? 1. (lower-taxed) capital gains in particular. we consume a large fraction of the capital required to provide a rapidly growing population with the tools and facilities for its livelihood. (The cost is $20. 2. and baseball gloves. The consequent deterioration of business standards is a major contributory factor to the degeneration of union practices. 3. wrist watches.THE CONSUMER (AND TAXPAYER) BE DAMNED of plant and equipment (at inflated prices!) and for future capital needs is a devastating effect of the prolonged currency dilution. 55 . New York (May. Allegedly administered prices may be just as flexible. 1955). In other words.

(Did opportunism oust principle?) On what relevant grounds. It was taken for granted that monetary stability is a categorical imperative of policy. if he has followed us so far. In the age of relativity and four-dimensional space. competition is always anarchistic or monopolistic.) In the collectivist gibberish: A dynamic world will not submit to a rule that has inhibited man- 56 . other than an "antiquated" tradition. who is to proclaim immutable laws of economics? Must we revert to the laissez faire ("leave us alone") doctrine that is as obsolete-the self-styled modernist may continue-as are the gold standard and the "anarchistic" competition of the nineteenth century? (To collectivists. Our reasoning was based on an unproved thesis. But we have seen axioms fade out even in geometry. may raise a quizzical question. evicted dogma.VII THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION OPPORTUNISM VERSUS PRINCIPLES The sophisticated reader. he may say. do we condemn the apparent historical trend accepted by a majority of progressive nations? If ethics is a mere matter of anthropology or psychoanalysis. doubt has. probability has replaced causality.

THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION. despite its scientific pretensions. If we do not keep inflating. to 57 . A favorite device is to ridicule the opponents of inflation by charging them with being laissez faire believers. the apology for inflation is not so new or so undogmatic as it pretends to be. we shall lose the cold war or go bolshevist is the proverbial last word of the dyed-in-the-wool inflationist. accept massive unemployment. As a matter of fact. kind from seeking to "maximize the welfare of the many rather than the profits of the few. Indeed. the alleged historical law of perpetual inflation is subject to change on short notice. Also." The gold standard in particular is the object of resentment and ridicule because of its "discipline"-the limit it sets on tinkering with the currency and arbitrarily manipulating the credit volume. 1 So is the inflationary philosophy itself. the fashionable (statist and inflationary) economics is a reversion to the pre-nineteenth-century vintage. laissez faire was a reaction to centuries-long bureaucratic meddling. cost what it may. that the only alternative to permanent or recurrent inflation is to stop economic growth. Nor is it generally accepted in some backward countries. This implies. only more dogmatic and far more emotion loaded. and let the unemployed starve· on the streets. very explicitly. "MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS" In historical perspective.

A prime misunderstanding should be cleared 58 . free grammar schools. starving the unemployed in the intervening period. We would not let the unemployed starve even if "economic rationality" would require it. Government. preferably-provided the spending does not impair competition. and the graduated income tax smack of bolshevism. and to the crushing monopolies of guilds and other privileged groups. the reaction: "Mr. and is not fraught with corruption. or that "interventions" such as the eight-hour day.AN INFLATION PRIMER the multitude of oppressive laws and regulations. Few of us would agree that the labor of children in early British factories and of women in the mines was justified because it speeded up capital accumulation out of high profits. which it does not." But what is the government's business in relation to the economy and. Such is not our concept of freedom. Nor is the rule of the free market an obstacle to welfare spending by the authorities-the local ones. to money? None whatsoever-beyond defense and internal order-is the literal interpretation of economic freedom. especially. is quite another thing. financial stability. All of this was enforced or at least tolerated by the state. mind your own business. Hence. It is rational to permit wage rates to fall in order to overcome a depression by adjusting costs to declining prices. is not a pretext for servicing pressure groups. which may last many months. or the incentives to work.

The theory of Marx that capitalism destroys itself was based on the totally false assumption. Attempts in France and Britain tosuppress the labor unions were instrumental in begetting the socialist movement. A by-product of free competition is low profit margins. spread by the same laissez faire school. Inflation. "the most deadly of all economic diseases. is typical of the pedants' confusion. the lowest possible prices. that labor as a group has virtually no chance of improving its lot. By the sa:me token. re- muneration according to services rendered. Objecting to the normal function of a central bank. which is to check an excessive How of bank credit (illiquidity!).THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION up at once. and optimal (best) satisfaction of the consumer at his free choice. Restraining monopolists is another interference with "freedom" that in reality preserves freedom. \Ve must distinguish the institutional guidance of the economic process from its collectivist control. Capitalism might have destroyed itself had not worldly wisdom prevailed over the dogmatic misinterpretation of the perfectly sound doctrine: that the price mechanism of the free market brings about the most productive allocation of resources. control of the traffic by a policeman might be objected to as an abridgment of human rights." is a royal road to the burial 59 . The naive leave-us-alone idea enjoyed a measure of popularity in the nineteenth century and gave the period an undeserved black eye.

the special interests in gold mining. dom itself. should fluctuate until it finds its "natural level. they argue." PERPETUAL PROSPERITY WITHOUT TEARS It IS deliberately misleading to pin the label 60 . The same holds for a once-and-forever devaluation of the dollar. since the zealots of an obsolete Utopia outdo in their zeal the original. The more so. The "classical" protagonist of undiluted economic freedom considered the permanently fixed price of gold as a number-one pillar and an irrevocable condition of the free market. the laissez faire (Manchester) school still has respectable adherents~ The disservice these persons unwittingly render to the cause of free enterprise and· sound money is a serious one. Unfortunately. The gold value of the dollar. even if its propagandists. pretend that this is the royal road to "stabilization. This is especially true in matters pertaining to monetary policy.AN INFLATION PRIMER of these functions and ultimately of economic free.." Why not let the length of the yard and the weight of the ton vary too? There is probably no more effective tool with which to inflate the monetary base on which the credit structure rests than tinkering with the currency's gold content. Some of his promient (self-appointed) successors would extend "freedom" to the price of the monetary unit itself.

THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION laissez faire on the opponents of inflation. 4357. Note the vagueness of the terms "maximum. leader of the pour-out-cheap-money wing of the 86th Congress (he was on the opposite side eight years earlier): "I believe that the American people desire that our economy meet three tests: providing maximum employment. As a rule. delivered by Senator Paul H." The London Economist} by no means a believer in laissez faire} commented (August 29. inflation and "deflation". Douglas. and maintaining relative price stability and preventing both inflation and deflation." and "relative. he is for full employment. 1959) in a typical English understatement: "Senator Douglas was once a 61 . p. The money-counterfeiting propensity takes innumerable forms. Economic incantations may cover up the orators' objectives. an adequate rateo£ growth. The American devotee of progressive debt monetization may be sincere in wishing to rescue us from flllegedly imminent depression. continued growth. Nay. artificially low interest rates. and stable prices-by promoting inordinately rising wages. he denies outright that he advocates rising prices and pooh-poohs the danger. 1959. Here is a sample of oratory. it is just as unfair to call every vindicator of inflation a communist. he claims to be against both." -Congressional Record) March 23. and deficit spending. though inflation is a "bloodless" technique to revolutionize the economic system." "adequate.

to create artificial employment by money administrations and not cause wage and price rises (in some sectors). Since the 1930's the "new economics" of the brilliant but whimsical J. but the "life of politics has dulled his objectivity and diverted his attention." The 1920's developed a refined technique to keep rolling a reckless speculative mania. One of his specious ideas was to monetize (inflate) in the depression and pump the money out (deflate) when full employment had been established. The underlying assumptions were two: that labor will not ask for higher wages even if prices rose (the unions are not interested in the cost of living. and it is 62 . the "eternal prosperity on a high plateau": continuous credit expansion. Keynes asserted). meaning the indebted farmer. and that the 'inflationary process can be thrown in reverse gear whenever the money managers decide to do so (as if they were not only immaculately wise. M. but also omnipotent). But it is not possible. Money-printing does the trick." The object of inflationist wishful thinking is the centuries-old dream of perpetual prosperity at no social cost. from "crucifixion on a cross of gold. minting silver was to deliver mankind. in complete disregard of liquidity requirements. Keynes has dominated the political scene and much of the academic teaching. But even dreams have their fashions. least of all in a relatively free economy. At one time.AN INFLATION PRIMER prominent economist.

Actually. THE RATIONALE OF THE CYCLE Monetary "reformers" of every denomination were fishing in the troubled waters of the Great Depression. thus talking from both sides of their mouths. with guaranteed price stability thrown into the bargain. the markets are (supposedly) incapable of restoring their own equilibrium or even of maintaining it. like Arthur T. For one spurious reason or another.. the electronic robot running for the presidency." It is supposed to be hopelessly exposed to recurrent mass unemployment.THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION most impolitic even to attempt to break a pros. Whatever economic creed they profess. if not to perpetual stagnation. although the depression faded out twenty years ago. perity wave by deflating the money volume. and they are still at it. Hadley's Microwac. The authorities all along the Potomac have joined the courthouse politicians in solemn assertions that they can and will pursue the mutually exclusive objectives of inflation-fed full employment and maximum production. all assume allegedly incurable shortcomings of "capitalism. This is the fundamental concept of Marxism as well as of 63 . measured by a fictitious statistical standard. we are still inflating! The definitions of full employment and of unemployment are adjusted conveniently to the "needs" of the pressure groups or are replaced by some arbitrary rate of growth.

the unions claim. If they are disappointed. must they be supported by credit shotsin-the-arm? (Why not borrow the parity-price concept of our bankrupt farm policy by setting up an "ever-normal" general store and donate the surpluses to the backward countries? Moscow could never match that.) Inventory recessions are the necessary corrections of inventory booms. Accordingly. expecting higher prices and / or more sales. The merchants may have overstocked. not to be hoarded or used for conspicuous consumption as the "capitalists" (allegedly) would do.AN INFLATION PRIMER Keynesianism. The radical departure and the so-called middle-of-the-road approach have in common the underlying economic philosophy: to substitute political fiat for the free functioning of markets and prices. Prosperity comes to a halt when money is scarce and credit dear. The difference is in degree rather than in substance. The crucial question then is: Why does every boom bust? The answer of the inflationist is simple and easy. ample and cheaper money is the cure. From there follows the call to collectivize· the whole economy or at least the money and credit system. Creditors and debtors are overextended. The latter would scarcely amount to 'much if the banks 64 . The additional funds. But what causes the "money shortage"? It denotes a disequilibrium between supply and demand. should preferably go into higher wages to be spent by the masses.

profits (beyond managerial pay and interest on capital) are the remuneration for incurring the risk of losses.vings of the (short) inventory 65 . the natural correction will set in. When steel mills operate ~ell below capacity or when newly built homes find no buyers. Or. Not so. if inflationary stimuli are applied. prices (and costs) will fall until they meet the consumer demand. Under stable monetary conditions. What justification is there for profits if the losses are to be nationalized? Capitalism has no economic or moral rationale if it is not what it should be: a system of risk-bearing. heading for a real slump. PROGRESS OR "GROWTH"? The downward s. consider the investment cycles. Indeed. one or both of the following events have occurred.THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION used proper caution in financing the accumulation of goods on the shelves. The "recession" is overcome. profit-earning and loss-taking enterprises. Relaxing credit after the goods become unsalable would be a clear invitation to the merchants to indulge in more of the same speculative stockpiling. but costs and prices spiral and the excessive supply grows further. Construction may continue. customers or no customers. Steel capacity had been expanded too far and the final product is overpriced. too many houses were built at too high cost. and business recovery ensues.

AN INFLATION PRIMER

cycle and especially of the (much longer) investment cycle fulfill highly significant functions, best described as of sobering up effect. Parasitic firms that mushroom on the inflationary swing are eliminated. Bank liquidity is improved. Overexpension of plants.and inventories is checked. Interest rates on fixed-value claims decline; the overvaluation of shares gives way to a recovery of the bond market. Speculative ventures are trimmed; rational ·investment standards come into their right. Labor and managerial efficiency improve dramatically, with or without new equipment. Costs per unit of output decline even without wage rate cuts. But, more often than not, high salaries are cut. Commodity prices, which have gone up on the expectation of continued inflation, soften, as do the unions' wage raise demands. For illustration, a few headlines chosen at random from recent and very mild recessions·will do: "Businessmen bank on permanent gains from emergency cost cuts" (September 1958). "Fear of unemployment brings drop in loafing, job-hopping, tardiness. Coffee breaks are shorter; work quality improves" (January, 1958). "Worker output on the increase as joblessness grows, firms push to cut costs . . . 20% gain in efficiency follows layoff. Absenteeism, 'quits' drop" (July, 1949). "Fighting slump by cutting costs," headlined the New York ])imes in February, 1958; and the Wall Street Journal: "Companies save where they
66

THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION

can during the business decline." While profits flow without much strain, it is only natural to neglect economies, to take it easy, to enjoy life and let the expense accounts run amok. When business turns down, output per worker that was sagging during the boom turns upward. Product quality and "service" to the customer improve spectacularly. These effects are by no means a matter of labor efforts alone. Of prime importance is enhanced managerial efficiency. The pressure of competitive imports spurred the textile mills' cost-cutting efforts: "On modest equipment spending they've achieved sharp improvements in productivity" (Wall Street ] ournal May, 1960). In fact, widespread misapprehensions notwithstanding, depressions are times of accelerated progress. As F. C. Mills, an outstanding statistician, has pointed out, the average increase of perman productivity in American industry (ratio of physical output to man-hour input) was 2 percent annually over the first half of this century; but two depression periods of an accelerated increase stood out-19l8-24 and 1932-41. 2 Actually, during the Great Depression between 1933 and 1935, manufacturing output per man-hour rose 11 per cent, in spite of much product quality improvement, the U.S. Department of Labor reports. Yet, Growth with a capital G is the inflationist battle cry. Without continuous inflation of the money volume and of prices, growth is supposed
J

67

AN INFLATION PRIMER

to stop, stagnation to set in. However, growthmanship promotes not progress, but just the opposite. Again, Dr. Mills' figures speak for themselves: Periods of "growth" were characterized by "retardation" in the rate of productivity's increase. The records of the nineteenth century support the same thesis. "During that remarkable period of economic growth from 1873 to 1893, when material wealth increased by about 140%, prices decreased more than 40%."3 In fact, an artificially stimulated, rapid "growth" may be accompanied by a high level of unemployment. In 1937, under inflationary stimuli, the industrial production index hit the 1929 record-with eight million unemployed roaming the streets. It is futile to ignore the sufferings and waste caused by the depression (as is done by a school of self-styled libertarians of the laissez faire variety). Equally futile is it to ignore the fact that every depression is the outgrowth of the preceding boom. Had the "recovery" maintained its natural path of balanced growth., it could have lasted indefinitely. Monetary stability., combined with sound fiscal and banking practices, is the prime condition of economic progress. It is the exaggeration and unbalancing of the process-overexpansions, physical and financial, leading to overemployment and other bottlenecks-that carry the penalty of a crash. 4 Exactly this state is what inflation brings about by obstructing

68

the lubricant and the source of energy? Or is it merely a case of economic myopia. The GNP never rises as it did in World Wars I and II. be it 3 per cent. the inability to see the consequences of monetary tympany beyond the immediate ebullience it evokes? In any event. in 1939 Keynes offered the British the flippant consolation that the destruction caused by the war would be to their benefit. no interruption. "thanks" to all the spending on military hardware.) But no cars and no homes were produced and shortages were the order of the day. the number varying according to his whim. 4 per cent. confusing money and real wealth. (Actually. of real wealth creation. in the single year 1943 it jumped as much as 15 per cent. The incessant clamor of the inflationist is that the gross national product (estimated total spending) must GROW every . creating employment and income thereafter.THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF INFLATION sound entrepreneurial and investment judgments and whetting the political appetites.rear at a fixed rate. There was ample statistical growth" but very little economic progress. Could it be that the ghost of the oldest of economic fallacies haunts the ivory towers of the academy. The former is a matter of more money outpour. There must be no letdown in the number game. the gross falsehood of the growth-at-any-price 69 . or 5 per cent. the latter. and it makes no difference on what we spend.

R. 4. About overindebtedness. I. periods of rising and falling prices alternated. Compared with Builders' Wage-rates. XXIII. 1959. The British retail price index of basic consumer goods fell by 51 per cent between 1813 and 1893." American Economic Review~ May. as we shall see. see subsequent chapters. 1952. typical of every rash of speculative mania. "Seven Centuries of the Prices of Consumables. 92. Phelps Brown and Sheila V. T. Mills. 2. H. In the past." Economica~ Vol. indeed. August 20. "The Role of Productivity in Economic Growth. There are. 3. Patterson. 70 . it. by 59 per cent between 1920 and 1932. No.AN INFLATION PRIMER philosophy makes one suspect there must be ulterior motives behind. Hopkins. C. F. in Commercial and Financial Chronicle. E.

if not for alarm. 71 . if the rate at which prices rise on the average exceeds 10 per cent per annum. in the wholesale price index. gravely concerned. or not concerned at all? But his wartime ruminations should not be taken too seriously. the upsidedown economics of J. continuing over a period of months. if not justification for hysteria is perhaps justification for alarm. At that time. Professor Jacob Viner of Princeton University.VIII CREEPING INFLATION AND INTELLECTUAL HONESTY HOW MUCH IS A LITTLE? Just how much inflation is a little inflation? This is the first question to which the proponents of creeping inflation must give an unequivocal answer as a matter of intellectual honesty. alarmed. Keynes reigned supreme. April. in particular the theory that the saver is the destructive villain in the drama of the business cycle.Commerce. and one of Roosevelt's brain trust. M. Their answers vary within a wide range. then certainly for grave concern. hysterical. A one per cent increase per month. pontificated: I shall begin to get scared. the spender the constructive benefactor. myself. 1941. • One may wonder about the present state of mind of the eminent economist: scared.

1959. in the Commercial & Financial Chronicle of July 23. So far as the public is concerned. Samuelson1 of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. it was rather conservative to be "concerned" about such a trifle as a monthly rate of price inflation exceeding one per cent. he may land-on the gold standard." intimating that. At this rate of progress of his own theory's depreciation. 1959. He was down to 2 per cent per year in the 1958 edition. with no explanation for the change of heart.AN INFLATION PRIMER Since rising prices penalize the wicked saver and stimulate the brave spender. Slichter was the prophet of creeping inflation. Instead of 72 . took him to task for "strange discrepancies between the Professor's statistics and the conclusions that their author draws from them. author of a widely used college textbook. reacted with intellectual somersaults. hav~ng built up a clientele by forecasting perpetual inflation.) Slichter. he had acquired a vested interest in his own forecasts. Professor Paul A. in an early edition announced ex cathedra that 5 per cent is the desirable rate of annual depreciation of the dollar's purchasing power. (He propagandized spending and debtmonetizing policies that would have helped his forecasts to come true. The New York Times of April 27. the late Harvard Professor SumnerH. He seemed to mean a ·3-5 per cent annual rise of prices.

The second question should be equallyembarrassing to the creeping inflationist. He posits some annual percentage rate of the moriey's future depreciation. The sameness of the arithmetical result is no proof of identical economic meaning. and the propagators of creeping inflation are not even bound by their own estimates. he became its defender. Annual averages over a· decade may take us back to the ups and downs of the old-fashioned boom-and-bust cycle. He still glorified the inflation that did marvels at the . 73 ." as he did only a few months earlier. We would not venture to divine the next turn. according to Slichter's last turn. Does he mean the same rate each year? That. less than 1 per cent inflation per annum is sufficient to maintain prosperity. CUTTING THE DOG'S TAIL PIECEMEAL The answer to the first question. putting the blame on the pressure groups. which have no scientific rationale whatsoever. Professor J. Kenneth Galbraith. would be contrary to all experience. "How much i~ a little?" is anyone's guess.modest rate of 8 per cent in nine years. meaning the farmers and veterans. But a long-term average may be arrived at by a practically infinite number of combinations of annual rates. of course. of his famulus at Harvard. In other words.CREEPING INFLATIoN blaming the Federal Reserve for "creating unemployment.

But then his creeping inflation boils down to short cycles of over. Our third question also implies a test of the inflationist's intellectual honesty. are 74 . a contingency to which our inflationists are opposed tooth and nail? According to Dr. noncommittal. of all people. namely that periods of boom alternate with years or months of recession. Slichter. is vague. evasive. On what assumptions is this diagnosis of human behavior based? On the ability of economists and politicians to bamboozle an ignorant public? But the propagandists themselves. the "fun" is spoiled. like the proverbial dog that would not suffer if its tail were cut by small pieces only. there is no such danger. if any. How long is the "perpetual" creeping supposed to go on? For a limited period? Indefinitely? Forever? The answer. with a long-term bias in favor of higher prices. Would that not turn the creeping inflation into the runaway or self-inflaming kind. Experience shows (to his satisfaction) that people take a cleverly planned or dosed inflation in stride and scarcely notice it.and underemployment. If there is none.AN INFLATION PRIMER Slichter admitted the obvious. If there is a reasonable time limit. this is crucial. Yet. people will notice sooner or later what they have to expect and will hedge against it by rushing to buy things before the money loses much of its purchasing power.

is that inflation cannot be planned. Planners (technocrats) think of running a social organism as a mechanical contraption. and speculate on further rising markets. The unions understood that the dilution of the currency creates a redundancy of demand. borrow. But rising wages unleash vicious spirals. science. They were ruining his balderdash-by acting on his theory of slow inflation. A prime limiting factor is the relative shortage of qualified labor. This is a 75 . we would be anxious to act on that knowledge-to buy. Supply cannot catch up at once. which in turn upset the neat calculations of the planners. "2 The trouble with planned inflation. he cried out that the community should not "tolerate this topsy-turvy system of distribution" by which "labor exploits capital. This is an extraordinary case of a forecaster whose forecast is doomed by his own efforts.CREEPING INFLATION guilty of making people aware of the inflation. . labor "bargaining" thrives. and engineering. If he convinced many of us that perpetual inflation is in the cards. slow or otherwise. Small wonder that Slichter was growing increasingly critical about the unions. spelling finis to the slow inflation. on that. S~ichter might have had a better chance of being proved right if he had stopped tooting his prognostications from the literary housetops. Instead of recognizing the effect of his own mischievious and inconsistent propaganda.

the politicians' power to plan or to 76 . the money supply is "disciplined. because the Treasury's recourse to the printing press is restrained. Even the almighty Soviets live under its constant pressure (interrupted periodically by brutal deflationary measures). However. but a planned economy cannot operate without inflation. This is exactly what slow inflation brings about. By controlling the flow of fuel. too. POWER VERSUS FREEDOM In a free or relatively free economy inflation cannot be planned.AN INFLATION PRIMER naive concept of the body economic-of human nature. one controls the speed of the motor. once the pattern is definitely established in people's minds. and this without serious interruptions. Under the rule of the gold standard. men do anticipate the forthcoming action of the monetary authorities if they know or think they know it in advance with reasonable certainty. the motor does not discount the future intake of fuel. at best. Then. the planners propose to control the flow of demand for consumer and capital goods." So is the budget. The same is true for the patronage statemisnamed welfare state-in which maintaining the national budget and the credit system in a sound operating condition and conserving the internal as well as the external stability of the currency are secondary considerations. By regulating the flow of spendable funds.

between internationalism and economic nationalism. then we cease to have a free society. (See Chapter VII. Hence. he is at any rate highly skeptical about its efficiency or desirability.) Herein lies the crux of the whole monetary debate. it is the safest and surest way to collectivize every society. Full employment (no-more- 77 . Currency manipulation is not only a characteristic of every collectivist society.CREEPING INFLATION manage the economy and to pour out patronage is restrained. That system deprives him of chances to exercise real power) power over production and distribution. (The law of corruption: corruption grows in geometric proportion to the volume of public expenditures. it boils down to the choice between a free) competitive-market economy and a statist or collectivist system run by political fiat. In ultimate analysis. "The issue between individualism and collectivism. the claim that the government has to take over where business allegedly leaves off. If the government is free to manufacture and manipulate money at will and arbitrarily. is settled when a country has decided what kind of monetary system it is going to have."3 Openly or in disguise.) If he does not negate the free-enterprise system altogether. the proponent of collectivist policies starts from the assumption that the price mechanism fails to perform its essential functions.

AN INFLATION PRIMER depression) was one patent pretext written into the statutes. governmental meddling. the collectivist stands ready with price. And should the inflation get out of hand. the broader the power he is likely to acquire 78 . foreign-exchange barbed wires. profit. Lately. of course) to the greed of groups with substantial weight at the polls. Even the tightrope act of "balancing" the economy between booms and recessions necessitates a host of incisive fiscal and monetary maneuvers.. but the object is constant: to win many friends and influence many voters. a most effective subsidiary to discriminatory taxation. But contracyclical med. political patronage. the public is deluged with the official and unofficial promotion of growth as the overriding value to justify more public spending. credit controls. as the Employment Act of 1946. and outright corruption. inflating. The greater the calamity brought about by the inflation. taxing. and meddling. dling turns out to be inflationary. rationing. so the next step is to add insult to injury by requesting that price stability should also be guaranteed-by the government. The theories and techniques change. and nationalizations. Crawling inflation is a very convenient avenue for the redistribution of incomes and wealth. nothing serves the ambitious politician better than the appeal (in humanitarian lingo. Short of military victory. if only in vague wording. allocations. and wage controls.

she is supposed to be on the verge of flooding the world's export markets. would be better off. his ultimate ideal. The sophomoric notion of a Russia that lacks the incentives and a rational price system. overtaking us is being dangled as a· Damocles sword. the touchstones of efficiency. with a bit of money management superimposed. But on some basic points his thinking happens to coincide with the Kremlin line. in addition to wasting their own and their satellites' resources.4 they can always reduce living standards.CREEPING INFLATION to combat the inflation· by "physical" (bureaucratic) methods of repression. MUST WE FOLLOW THE KREMLIN? A word about the collectivist is appropriate. or that the Soviets know little and care less about their own costs. (If she did. Growth at any price. is straight out of the bolshevist horse's mouth. Russia's propaganda about her progress-measured in imaginative price data-is being held up for boundless admiration. He is no Communist. everyone.) For years. although the dollar volume of her exports to non-Soviet countries never reaches that of Switzerland or 79 . including ourselves. oh no! Frequently. And (changing the metaphor) he rides that horse for all it is worth. Never mind that the data are notoriously faked. he claims to be a believer in economic freedom.

That is very nearly the idea our statists are pursuing. His satisfaction. Their emphasis is not on individual consumer wants. the Soviets give primacy to armaments and capital goods. As the pow. Inescapably. "welfare" turns into patronage. but on collective "public" needs. The Western ("democratic") collectivist and the Eastern (totalitarian) communist have more in common than either would care to admit. but their fetish. collectivists and communists pay lip service. is something else. On the free market. To that. the rise of his living standard. The common concept of monetary and credit manipulation is but one expression of an ideology that is the very opposite of economic freedom-which means free choice by the consumer. A superbureaucracy does the choosing. instead of accommodating itself to available savings. 5 All this vastly 80 . The volume of investment. with a difference in degree due to the difference in political climate. the average consumer gets a minimum of benefits.AN INFLATION PRIMER Sweden. they substitute progressively their own judgments for consumer choices. the consumer's vote reigns sovereign in determining what should be produced. is subject to inflationary expansion. is the acid test of progress.ers that be enlarge their grip over the nation's income and resources. growth. with very limited choice. Such irrational propaganda serves also to justify our foreign-aid outpour. As is well known.

mismanagement· is the outcome. Whether the rationalization is to overcome the alleged inequities of capitalism and its inherent "stagnation. the result is to shift the management from the hands . especially by inflation. Even under the unrealistic assumption that the planners are incorruptible. or revolutionizing. who are responsible to the verdict of the market." meaning the free choice by the consumer. Where the logic of collectivist yearning drifts is perfectly illustrated by its recent turn against the "affluent society. or to promote growth.0£ entrepreneurs. Leaders of the "liberal" intelligentsia have lately been producing best sellers purporting to show that we (and the British cousins) are living too high on the hog. unless they are superhuman and know better what is good for the consumer than he does himself and make no major errors in guessing the future of the markets. In the forefront of this neocollectivist move- 81 . into the arms of technocrats responsible to politicians." to create more employment. the government-who happens to absorb directly up to 30 per cent of the national income and who manages or distorts a great deal more by remote controls.CREEPING INFLATION enlarges the radius of governmental and pressuregroup action. the distribution of incomes and the pattern of industrial development. badly neglecting the poor fellow. if at all. arbitrarily confounding.

Richard Crossman. to them. They complement each other in the pursuit of unhappinessof more regulating. but collectivists are no dreamers. threatens with popular reaction against the collectivist trend. and his British counterpart. They know what they want. It may be through the curtain of tears shed for the hungry millions in the underdeveloped countries (and their socialist planners). fundamentally. economist of the Democrats for Political Action (the brain trust of the Democratic Party's union-supported left wing). Kenneth Galbraith. Sooner or later. it is one instrument among others to gain and hold power. for whose benefit we are to be forced into involuntary AUSTERITY. yesterday's easy-going inflation- 82 . When inflation ceases to make friends. or of its Left. "Eggheads" may be inflationists. and spending authority for the government. the power motive in the back of the inflationist mind breaks into the open. The inflationist intent is. nay. is not self-purpose. a new catchword for the old idea of equalizing incomes (downward). This is not accidental. Creeping inflation and galloping socialism are ideologic brothers under the skin. Inflation. to stultify the autonomy of the market and to foster the growth of the government's power. a spokesman of the Labor Party.AN INFLATION PRIMER ment will be found outstanding "liberals" of the Keynes-Slichter school of inflationism: Harvard Professor J.

2. Philip Cortney. September 11."-Jacques Rueff. 4.1 per cent in 1949-53 to 7. "A myth of expansion [is] a way of attenuating. Soviet statistics have been deflated lately by one of Russia's own top-level economists (New York Times. During the 1960 presidential campaign. 83 .7 per cent in 1957-1959. 1960). and of the erosion of savings.CREEPING INFLATION ist turns into tomorrow's stern moralist. he was a top economic advisor to the Democratic candidate. outstanding French economist. 1. Even by their own inflated figures (their dairy output includes the milk consumed by the calves). 5. Slichter paid tribute to the unions' excessive wage demands as an "independent cause of the [1959] recovery." 3. of excessive taxation. by public intervention. in The New York TimesJ December 10. the sterilizing effect of inflation. By 1960 it was trailing far behind that year's 12 per cent industrial output growth in the European Common Market. the Soviets' rate of growth is declining: from an average annual 14. 1949. Virtually in the same breath.

there would be Stagnation." subject to arbitrary manipulation.. volume of production.. extrapolating from benchmarks. etc. indeed. To the inflationists. are pure "guesstimates... with a capital S. supposedly. Without that. applying booster factors. by the brimful money supply. blowing up sample data. The methods to substitute what amounts to "very wild guesses" in the place of factual knowledge are known to the statisticians as "interpolating between benchmarks." According to out- 84 ." The data . Now.IX INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET:' THE LIABILITIES PROGRESS BY INFLATION Statisticians compile data which add up to the much-revered figure called the national income. inserting trends.. the growth of the magic figure is the supreme objective of policy. if not actually created. using imputed weights.. Many economists and many more politicians use it as the infallible yardstick of the nation's progress. wealth. and welfare. an accomplishment they claim is made possible. savings and investment. Planners plan by that figure. about the components entering into such aggregates as national income. It has been rising. the national income is a somewhat less than reliible "aggregate. setting targets for its growth.

a cornucopia of domestic and foreign subsidies. given the rapid rise of population. unbalanced budgets."l I For the sake of argument. Translated into "real" income by eliminating the price-inflation factor. which is roughly the same average that obtained in the thirty-four-year period 1880-1914. Did we need the stimuli of managed money. and a multitude of bureaucratic interventions-all of which involves a great deal of waste and corruption-to accomplish what we have done before without such shots-in-the-arm? That is not all. What matters is the per capita growth rather than the total growth. through several booms. under stable money. crises.2 per cent annually. at face value. this means a rise of abou t 3. vague and hazy as it is. Even of this modest increase. About 85 . "The result (of forecasts based on national iFlcome statistics) looks about as scientific as Alice's celebrated attempt to play croquet by hitting a live hedgehog with a flamingo. the real national income rises by little more than 1 per cent a year. Per capita. a large portion produces no economIC values. let us accept the concept.INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES standing British statisticians. huge armaments. creeping price inflation. and depressions. The gross national income's rate of progress since 1950 has been unusual. averaging some 5 per cent a year in dollars of depreciating purchasing power. fantastic price props.

AN INFLATION PRIMER

one-fourth of the increase originates in ~ilitary expenditures, governmental stockpiles of unsalable commodities, "unproductive" services of bureaucrats, and the like. The true (per capita) growth of goods and services available for the satisfaction of the consumer or for additions to the nation's productive capacity may be threefourths of 1 per cent per annum, or less, far below the comparable late nineteenth-century record. In fact, it is well below the record of the period 1920-28, a period of stable prices and of a comparatively slow rate of population growth. For illustration: in 1958, the average American family's income is supposed to have "risen" by$20, or one-third of 1 per cent, this before taxes. Such is the much-advertised growth of our national income, the asset side of creeping inflation's balance sheet. The liability side is being ignored, deliberately.
THE LIABILITY SIDE

There is a price to be paid for an artificially engineered growth. For one thing, with every 1 per cent increase of the national income, our debts, net after elimination of duplications, grow by 1.7 per cent. This they did in the 1920's, too. This "growth" is spectacular, indeed, as shown in the table on the facing page. Between 1950 and 1958, the net nonfederal debt of the American people has risen five times

86

INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES

faster than during the corresponding eight years of the lusty 1920's. True, in the current period the dollar's purchasing power has been cut severely, while it was stable in the previous one. Even if the figures are corrected accordingly, the rise in the current boom has been proceeding at a rate almost treble that in the previous great prosperity. Note that in the 1920's the net governmental debt remained stable; the federal government liquidated (repaid!) as ·much as the state and local authorities borrowed. ~n the 1950's, both went into the red. For everyone-dollar increase of the total net debt in the twenties, we added seven dollars in the fifties.
"NET" DEBT OUTSTANDING

(in Billions of Dollars) End of Year Governmental State and local Federal $ 23.1 $ 6.5 20.3 10.0 16.5 13.2 44.8 16.5 229.7 13.6 218.7 20.7 230.2 33.4 232.7 50.9 243.2 55.6 Private CorIndiporate vidual t $ 57.0 $ 49.2 72.7 59.6 88.9 72.3 75.6 53.0 93.5 60.6 142.1 109.2 177.5 165.4 255.7 240.4 281.7 265.8

*

Total

1921 ...... 1925 ...•.. 1929 ...... 1940 ...... 1946 . ~ .... 1950 ...... 1954 ...... 1958 ...... 1959 ...... Change: 6.6 1921-29 ... 1929-40 ... + 28.3 1940-59 ... +198.4

$135.8 162.6 190.9 189.9 397.4 490.7 606.5 779.7 846.4

-

+ 3.3 +39.1

+ 6.4

- 13.3 +206.1

+ 31.9

+ 23.1
- 19.3 +212.8

- 1.0 +656.5

+ 55.1

*The tTue federal debt is about $40 billion larger than the "net" figure. See Chapter X. tlnc1udes noncorporate enterprises.

87

AN INFLATION PRIMER

The major portion of the funds to finance the inflation of the personal debt-a credit expansion that fans the fire under the price level-stems from the banks and the savings associations. By the end of 1958 they carried, between them, over 60 per cent of the outstanding mortgage loans on one- to four-family homes. Directly and by indirection, the commercial banks also provide the bulk of installment credit (up to three years), this on top of a growing volume of business term loans (up to ten years!) and "slow" loans to business, plus substantial holdings of medium- and long-term corporate and municipal bonds. The obvious hazards involved in overloaning themselves and in impairing the liquidity of the earning assets seem to be ignored by a new generation of bankers. This new generation does not remember the depression and is being sold, just like the fathers were thirty-odd years ago, on the idea that there never will be another.
BORROWING A LIVING STANDARD

Presently, the most rapidly rising component of the credit structure is the "individual" debt of nonfarm households and unincorporated businesses. This debt grows a great deal faster than the personal disposable income after deduction of direct taxes, as shown in the next table. In 1959, the net addition to the outstanding personal debt alone (mortgages on one- to four-

88

.... 1951 ... 1953 . 1955 .6 5 7 2 7 135..9 307. or 9 per cent..4 165.. our per-"capita consumption could not improve even at the modest annual rate the statistics show if it were not bolstered by purchases on credit that will limit our future consumption.7 265.. 1957 .. Evidently.INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES family nonfarm residential buildings plus consumer loans) was $19.. or without serious interruption... Thus. a record.5 256.7 252....... also a record...... As consumers.2 207.9 119.9 316. But for the time being.. 1958 ......5 Net Individual and Noncorporate Debt (billions) $108.. such purchases permit a standard of living above the level of earnIngs.....0£ $5... no one knows.9 239. Gain.. Gain...7 227.5 billion.... 1952 .4 292.. a major one spells depression.... 1959 . % 10 % 9 238.1 12 10 9 13 8 6 7 6 5 3 5 10 89 . 1954 . we are ~re-empting expected future income.9 274.... How long this process of piling up debts in excess of incomes-and ahead of the rate at which liquid savings are built up-can continue... Installment credit ·is currently expanding at the annual rate .8 End of Year 1950 ...5 334..... instabiility is being built into a supposedly depression-proof economy.5 221. Every minor interruption means a recession.......4 190.. But no one in his right senses would dare to assert that it can go on indefinitely...4 billion. 1956 . Disposable Personal Income (billions) $207..6 150...

The economic visionaries who dream of eternal prosperity. the annual increase of the debt is outpacing the annual growth of disposable income. derive satisfaction from the fact that not all families are burdened with personal debts. the comparison of total disposable income with the total of personal debt does not give the right picture. from socks and pants to furniture and videos-at no down payment. if the inflation "creeps" that long? The debt obsession. the local businesses offered the steelworkers almost everything. of the indebted 68 per cent. two-fifths were obligated both ways. five or ten years hence.AN INFLATION PRIMER At that. for a majority. or of perpetual creeping inflation which is the same mirage. In 1959. In Gary. say. induced by the excessive money supply and nurtured by an inflationary psychology. 32 per cent of all "spending units" (families) had no debt at all. this is very ominous. by consumer loans as well as by mortgages. the other is owed by a section of the population only-surely not by millionaires. personal debt creation proceeded apace despite the steel strike. What will be the proportion. According to a recent Federal Reserve Board survey. In reality. the credit of the striking steelworkers seemed better than ever. After three months without visible income. It means that. The one is accruing to the population as a whole. Just take the goods 90 . produces paradoxical phenomena.

to mortgage themselves at he annual rate of $10 billion 91 . The disproportion between current production and current consumption is highlighted by this example of unemployed labor maintaining its spending habits in anticipation of a wage increase.INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES and sign a piece of paper. the probl m is not so much the present size of the home-m rtgage debt. and so does the rent. Maybe so. the dreamers argue (in waking hours). the problem iswhere do we go f am here? Can people afford. with 10 per cent annual interest charge in the "bargain. let alone the installments on the new debts. Again. in some cases. but it can be a serious opstacle t the worker-owner's mobility and earning power or to his ability to adapt himself to changing co ditions. plus upkeep and tax. Home ownership may be desirable for many reasons. Construction cost per dwelling unit tends to decrease with the number of dwellings under one roof. and how much lo ger can they afford. But it would take decades for any increase to make up for the wages lost during the strike." Nothing wrong with buying homes on credit. but for a majority. with ever less down payments needed and ever more interest charged for stretched-out periods. The families merely pay for mortgages. it takes an irresponsible optimism to ignore the pitfalls. the paper was eligible as collateral for a bank loan. what they would otherwise have paid for rent.

assets. H. a former member of the President's Council of Economic Advisors: While home mortgage and consumer debt has quintupled since 1946. There is "no danger" of future defaults because there are no defaults now. the "aggregate" volume of mortgages may never go in default. 1959. Sixty per cent of American families live in homes they own. Moreover. The ultimate tranquilizer is: falling back on Uncle Sam. if anything should go wrong? Nothing to worry about. and equities in homes have grown proportionately. nearly 40 per cent of all home mortgage loans are VAguaranteed or FHA-insured-55 billion of the 114 billion outstanding. He insures or guarantees. With currently low default and delinquency ratios on mortgage debt. we must recall that family incomes." Of course. banks and savings institutions rarely find the names of their home-mortgage debtors on the ledgers of. Such irresistible logic is typical of the economic tranquilizers produced by thinking in "aggregates. there appears to be no danger in this quarter. Jacoby. take the word of N. as just 92 . and half of these homes are free of mortgage debt. but the story may be different for those mortgages incurred at high cost in purchasing speculatively overvalued properties. [Italics ours. 2 As it is. their savings accounts.AN INFLATION PRIMER to $15 billion far in advance of the growth of their incomes? What of the creditors.]-Commercial and Financial Chronicle~ October 8. while the money is pouring out of the banking system and confidence (in coming inflation) is unshaken.

At present.th" of this kind surely may raise living standards now. Still less can its further growth keep up with the accelerating growth of the debt. Treasury.S and going ever deeper. But it has not grown three times larger. it did not even double in productive capacity. the market forces. someone's living standards may have to suffer later. even if the U. By that time. $55 billion of $144 billion outstanding home-mortgage loans. just as surely. "Grow. one accompanied by stagnation. Fortunately. crises and panics do not require that all debtors go bankrupt. Needless to say. should be able to take care of additional billions worth of bonds with which to satisfy the mortgage creditors. a "new" kind of creeping inflation may be under way. Of course. tend to bring about an automatic correc93 . austerity-restraint in consumption-is what some inflationists advocate already. These additional bonds would be either thrown on an overloaded capital market or monetized by the banks. far more than a modest fraction of consumers is better than knee-deep in debts.INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES quoted. That still leaves $90 billion unprotected. it can take (swallow?) more ~ebts.S. if permitted to operate. Indeed. hopelessly entangled in its debt problems. the American economy has grown "larger" and richer in a generation's lifetime. The bankruptcy of a modest fraction does it.

The expansion of personal loans is a significant factor in tightening the banks' lending capacity and raising the interest rates. the short-term debt of nonfinancial corporations other than railroads has quadrupled. So. Probably some 15 per cent of the latter is due annually. to say nothing of the impending threat of illiquidity. but the profit margin per sales dollar declined. and their long-term debt has more than trebled.ved to one's own "pockeL" "PEOPLE'S CAPITALISM" Specious fruits grow on the tree of creeping 94 . That this process is not fraught with. and the tax collector takes 52 per cent of the net. a world in which debts are o. Interest charges did not rise proportionately.AN INFLATION PRIMER tion of the borrowing and spending excesses. has greatly increased and their expansion potential has been curtailed. Business corporations and local authorities contribute their share to the debt inflation. too. provided the Federal Reserve goes slowly with its anticyclical medicaments to rehabilitate the organized recklessness. thanks to lower rates and to the taxdeductibility feature. This puts a damper on the supply of credit. very serious hazards can be believed only by those who have taken out a patent on eternal prosperity. in the 1950's. the debt burden of corporations) relative to their net (after taxes). Between 1930 and 1959.

A chief source of the anticapitalistic sentiment of the 1930's. they were wiped out. never will happqn again) is their own savings (as if that w~uld bake them feel much better). on which they were sold as if it were legitimate business. the salesmen of sloth assure U$. When millions of people lose their money on gambling.and the same breed of "financiers" pocketing untold fortunes. provided the deal is not unfairly "loaded" and the customer does not get hurt when the day of "reckoning" (in sensible price-earning ratios) arises. It is the lusty 1920's allover again. This is differ4nt from the 1920's. they turn against the whole system that supplied the gambling chances." meaning the fantastic proliferation of stockholders in and out of investment trusts. Investment trusts play the market with billions of dollars. Then. and th~ money cranks have a heyday. The latter plead perfect innocence. then the market fell. What's wrong with getting rich? Nothing. people gambled on borrowed money. with the same ruthless techniques in exploiting ignorance and greed . One of them is being hailed as "people's capitalism. 95 .INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES inflation. NotI1ing of the sort is threatening now when all they m}ght lose in a crash (which never. to which we owe the New Deal and the welfare state. was exactly the same "innocent" practice. of course. I . most of it put up by people who have no business risking their modest savings in ventures of which they know nothing.

but there is no control.AN INFLATION PRIMER Margin requirements. he gives written assurance to the banker that he is not using the credit for pur. the buyer incurs a debt that is not registered in the statistics of debts. compared with the dollar volume of stock-exchange transactions then and now. chasing or holding securities. quoted on the over-the-counter market.. Look at the figures of brokers' loans: they are a mere fraction of what they were in 1929. A vast volume of shares. 96 . thanks to strict controls by the Securities and Exchange Commission. several national and fifty state agencies. possibly bona fide. They can cancel the plan. Most of this belongs in the category of "eye wash. Easy money "eases" the moral fiber of society. and the stock ex_ changes themselves. no effective penalty on circumventing the law. reduced from 90 to 70 per cent. And. are not even subject to margin requirements." The authorities may check palpable fraud but have no power over intangible. As for the margin borrower. mal-persuasion.debt subterfuges are being concocted. the public cannot be deceived any more. Moreover. The worker at the bench and the farmer in the barn are being parleyed into signing up for ten years or longer on fixed-sum annual plans to purchase investment-trust certificates. In all but name. but the cost of doing so is prohibitive. virtually prohibit speculative excesses.

97 . 136-7. "Close to 20% of all spending units were devoting 20% or more of their disposable income to installment payments. embezzlement. secured. It requires np special astuteness to realize that the vanishing respect fot property is very intimately related to the numbing of re~pect for the integrity of money and its value. 3. Too often. pp. Wit- ness the proliferation of criminality. real values are likely to suffer. symptoms of the disease that has its prime roots in monetary and fiscal policies. Geneva. is merely the monetary aspect of th<:t general decay of law and of respect for law.-Professor Wilhelm Roepke. durable. Managed Money at the Crossroads (Notre Dame. private households are strongly tempted to follow the same pattern. twenty. in both cases what is firm. 2. According to a 1960 Federal Reserve survey. 1958). fugitive. When acquiring wealth becomes a matter of gambling and politicking. Inflation.INFLATION'S BALANCE SHEET: THE LIABILITIES When government housekeeping is oblivious of the rules of economy. and designed for continuity gives place to what is fragile. and tax evasion. Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press. earned. From this writer's book. fleeting.and thirty-year mortgages finance homes that may have to be rebuilt in fifteen years. as it does in the inflation morass." But a good deal of the "disposable" income is not disposable at all. And that is not the kind of foundation on which the free society can long remain standing. 1. and ephemeral. laxity about property and laxity about money are very closely bound up together. In fact. The··drawn-out depreciation of the currency's purchasing power cannot fail to affect standards other than the monetary alone. and the spirit which nourishes it and accepts it. unsure. Switzerland.

X THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT
IS IT A BURDEN ON THE NATION?

It is not, provided it is being held domestically, proclaimed President Franklin D. Roosevelt. "One pocket owes it to the other." (Debt owed to foreigners is considered as belonging in another chapter.) Since the public debt is no debt in the common meaning of the term, it need not be and virtually never has been repaid, according to the managed-money and creeping-inflation advocates. We should learn to live with the mammoth debt and accept the alleged necessity of its further growth. Let us go on accumulating budget deficits whenever "needed." Consider the size of the pile as irrelevant. As a Harvard professor announced it not long ago: it makes no difference whether the federal debt is $300 billion [nine zeros] or $300 trillion [twelve zeros]. Why, far from being a national liability in a meaningful sense, it might be considered as a wealth-creating asset. How could one enjoy all the "blessings" of currency.. diluting if it were not for the debt and its recurrent monetization? How would we overcome depressions (in the midst of booms), maintain full

98

THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT

employment, and spend ourselves into ever greater richness? He who believes in inflation as a panacea for curing social ills, or even as a necessary evil, must justify the existence and growth of the overextended national debt. But the principle of "one pocket owes it to the other" applies to a communistic society only. When everything belongs to the state, all liabilities are a matter of mere bookkeeping. Conversely, he who denies that the debt is more than a bookkeeping item, wittingly or unwittingly, negates the system of private property. Under that system, the "pockets" of creditors are distinctly separate from those of debtors. A gain of the one is no compenscftion for a loss to the other. Yet, the "two-pockets" principle asserts that, in contrast to private debts, servicing the public debt merely means a transfer of income from one group to the other. Real resources are not affected. "The fact that the government owes its citizens certain sums is not really a burden on the natIon as a whole," asserted The Economist (London) of November 21, 1959. That would be true if a 100 per cent tax were levied on income derived from federal securities. Of course, no one would buy the bonds, except the Federal Reserve that delivers to the Treasury practically all earnings on its huge portfolio. Presently, the American taxpayer is burdened with $9 billion a year for interest on the $290

99

AN INFLATION PRIMER

billion debt, nearly twelve cents of every dollar of federal revenue. Are we to believe that we would be no better off if federal taxes were 12 per cent lower, even though the bondholders would receive that much less? (Could they not have invested in other securities?) By the same token, no tax ever is a burden, provided the money taken from a domestic Peter is "transferred" to a domestic Paul, which is what usually happens. Note how neatly the argument for the public debt's alleged economic innocence fits into the not-so-innocent frame of mind of the demagogues who plead for wealth redistribution. Why not indulge in such "transfers" by which the loss of one side is compensated, supposedly, by profits of the other? By promoting the something-for-nothing illusion, debt-making serves not only as the motor of inflation, but also as an intellectual vehicle of collectivism.
THE ECONOMICS OF THE DEBT

The interest charge on the national debt is a strategic element in the federal budget. Without the $9 billion-minus $3 billion, maybe, allowing for the bondholder's income tax, etc.-among the "overhead" costs of government, the budget could be held in balance and the debt reduced by a notch, still leaving some funds available for tax cuts. The national debt burdens the economy in
100

home builders. $5 billion in !959.THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT more than one way. almost none flows back. preferably-is some- thing to behold. the charges have to be paid out of taxes. A shortage of capital is engendered and interest rates mount. consumers. which are paid largely by lower-middle-class people engaged in production. But even during wars. the abandon with which the responsible politicians plunge into irresponsible borrowing-of the most dangerous short-term variety. it is much easier to win support for public spending out of future generations' income 101 . For another thing. for raising it further? Of course. That much less is left to other borrowers-business. and a disincentive is fostered. New money the government borrows is taken out of the nation's "pool" of savings: $7 billion in 1958. as in the case of reproductive (self-liquidating) investment. has been invested in a productive fashion. i~ any. raising production costs and living cost~ in addition to the government's own costs of operation. It is scarcely possible for current revenues to cover all war expenditures. Some of the borrowing was necessary. Wherever it went. to be sure. What justification is there in this prosperous postwar era for not reducing the debt. nay. local authorities. Instead. what did the government do with the money? Little. Its interest charges are not covered by forthcoming earnings.

least satisfactory on the postwar scene. Its ruin may in some cases be unknown to him. The sheer size of the American national debt should provide food for thought. has no interest in the good condition of any particular portion of land. By recourse to borrowing. He has no inspection of it. and voting. As Adam Smith wrote nearly 200 years ago. a singular hurdle to foolhardy projects (with popular appeal) is eliminated. And something else is eliminated: the rational control over the use of the borrowed funds. while the former cannot talk back. The federal budget is in a hopeless confusion. The latter resent higher taxation. it pro102 . taxpayers' expense. perpetuated by the demagogues' disposition to take credit for current welfare spending and leave the debit to their successors. Instead. speaking of the difference between private and public debt: A creditor of the public. He can have no care about it. when the Congress cannot even figure ou~t the exact state of fiscal commitments. As a creditor of the public he has no knowledge of any such particular portion.AN INFLATION PRIMER than at the living. especially when the burden is very heavy already. or in the good management of any particular portion of capital stock. considered merely as such. and cannot directly affect him. Budgetary controls are a highly unsatisfactory substitute for the lender's "inspection" of individual credit risks. or the government its own operational condition.

Misgivings of sane minds were due to the foresight that unsavory practices would have to be used in "selling" a blown-up volume of obligations. Now. The richer the nation. But it does not recognize the fact that in the process of accumulating the debt. and the shouting has subsided. One simply declares that the new proportion is the right one. If the debt rises faster.THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT vides the inflationists with a hollow argument. we are close to $300 billion. the nation's financial standards corrupted. Why. the greater its ability to pay and the more it can borrow. the "bankers" were hollering about national bankruptcy if the debt should pass $50 billion. nearly double the public debts of all non-Soviet countries combined. prices had been inflated. that is no problem either. FISCAL LEGERDEMAINS Our national debt is equal to three-fifths of the annual gross national product. How can the American capital market carry such a load of parasitical claims and still function? It 103 . a reasoning which at least recognizes that the debt is a burden. What matters is not the actual size of the debt but its proportion to the national income. ignoring the fact that the two rise together: IIlore debt means more paper income. with a chain reaction of sickening repercussions to be expected. the savers shortchanged. the credit structure distorted. and the foundations of the freeenterprise system impaired.

It considers these well-Hplaced" obligations as owned by itself: the Treasury's one pocket owes it to the Treasury's other pocket. are autonomous bodies that invest their reserves traditionally in bonds of private (regulated) mortgage-credit institutions-rather than in government obligations. and the veterans' life insurance accounts. notably the German. some even to the criteria of the criminal code. continental social-insurance systems. starting with the some $50 billion in the Treasury's trust funds.AN INFLATION PRIMER does so by a number of financial tricks and deceptive devices. Let us consider the distribution of the debt by major categories of holders. In contrast. What if outgoing payments should exceed the contributions? Why. business if they invested in their own obligations the funds entrusted to them. The interest on these well-placed bonds is "paid" in more IOU's. largely the social security. that is simple. the railroad pension. the rate of the levy will be raised. 104 . The sovereign cannot be put in his own penitentiary. all contrary to the 0perational rules of the free market. The managers of an insurance or of a trust company would soon be out of. It diverts the earmarked revenues into general expenditures and puts its own IOU's in the respective accounts. But that is precisely what the government does. These funds represent the excess of special payroll taxes over and above the amounts disbursed.

as a guaranty fund for some $140 billion of "insured" bank deposits. by and large. have to be "rolled over" from one maturity date to the next. namely.Another revealing case in point is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. accumulating so far about $2~-billion worth. $40odd billion are deducted from the "gross" national debt. The "net" debt is reduced by that amount. It buys bonds but scarcely ever sells a major amount. This agency sinks the "insurance" premiums paid by the banks into long-term government bonds. agencies that have no other choice in investing their funds. the bureaucrats figure that. In any case. The Federal Reserve holds some $27 billion which." A more ingenious piece of financial legerdemain is hard to irlvent. FALSIFYING THE BANK BALANCE SHEETS There are several more dumping places for federal securities.THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT or more people will be· forced to t~ke the "insurance. . though they are not organs of the Treasury. since agencies of Uncle Sam hold the obligations of UntIe Sam. the two sides of his ledger cancel out. one-sixth of the debt is no headache to the Treasury (for the time being). Number one is the central bank. Accordingly. Quite logically. depriving the Reserve System of its freedom of maneuvering. thus adding a statistical legerdemain to the financialone. The FDIC itself brought out in its report for 1957 105 .

Its funds might be exhausted if a single one among the eight biggest banks would get into trouble. De facto" they have a limited choice only.) On top of that. (The public's impression is that the deposits are guaranteed by the government. mostly of longer than one-year maturity. in violation of economic common sense. equal at the end of 1959 (on the books) to about 25 per cent of total deposits. which is not the case. deposit insurance is relevant only in a bank crisis~in which case the FDIC would not be helpful at all. business ethics. A corporation publishing faked balance sheets 106 . hat brings us to the some $65 billion of federal T securities held by the banking fraternity. Not only is this a phony arrangement which misleads the public. . but it also misleads the banks to reckless credit policies and to negligence in building up proper capital accounts for the protection of the deposits. They are cajoled (and bamboozled) into buying and retaining these securities. to say nothing of a widespread run. to cover even a small fraction of the "insured" deposits. The banks rely on the "insurance"-and on their own holdings of government securities. and governmental responsibility. Insurance companies and savings and loan associations were holding another $20 billion. in effect. The institutions are under no compulsion to buy and are free to sell-legally.AN INFLATION PRIMER that. the FDIC would have to liquidate its own holdings and break the bond market.

Thereby. they are promoted to absolutely safe and "liquid" investments. is legalized so far as commercial and savings banks are concerned. however.) With rising 107 . It may face . The bank examiners count the federal bonds. They can carry government bonds on their books at par value. (The more loans. the balance sheet of your bank still may show it at $1. whatever their maturity and actual price. The same fraudulent practice.000. thereby creating a market for them. the less liquid is the bank. as prime liquid assets.THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT would be barred from every stock exchange.000 bond may be quoted on the market at $800 or less. A $1. just like cash. The purpose of this perverted regulation. guaranteed against book losses.to buy short-terms: the Treasury sweetens the deals by throwing deposits on taxand-loan-accounts into the bargain. the more liquid is the bank. and never mind the quality or the maturity of the loans!) Small wonder that the banks purchase riskloaded long-term federal obligations. The objective is to protect the investor against fraud. (They are easily "persuaded" . No need to write off such losses out of current' profits. The banks may even pay dividends-out of losses. and never mind the losses. adopted by all federal and state supervisory agencies and by the SEC. by the examiners' standards. The more bonds in the portfolio.criminal prosecution. is to give those bonds a sacrosanct status.

is exposed and backfires. the Federal Reserve. No newspaper dares to discuss it. be relied on to resist the "telnptation" to absorb either or both temptations. the banks disclose their losses. or how many times. perhaps. the "prime liquidity" turns into prime iI-liquidity-unless the bonds are monetized by. as in 1958-59. raise bond prices. 108 . which would skyrocket if major amounts were liquidated. The public knows nothing about this sad situation. While the boom and high interest rates prevail. Very likely it will. or reserves against losses. but it could be overruled by the Congress. By selling them. and the losses shifted to. the bond portfolios tend to "freeze in" time and again. the entire capital and surplus had been lost. will the depositors and savers permit themselves to be fooled? Sooner or later every legerdemain. even a part of the deposits was wiped out. As it is. The "silence of the sea" covers them up. but what about the next cycle? For how long. and wipe out the losses. The central bank may. In some. Those persons on the inside (and with insight) hope and pray that a recession will reduce the pressure on the capital market.and long-term securities. subtle as it may be.AN INFLATION PRIMER interest rates and declining values of medium. the much too modest capital accounts. or the preposterous methods of the government at the root of it. were impaired in most banks! In a number of banks.

have been practicing for some time. or both. State bankruptcy" the partial or total repudiation of capital or interest. 109 . This is what modern democracies. wiping out the real value. There are two kinds of illegitimate liquidation. a favorite pastime of totalitarian states. but it certainly shO'\vs what happens to every public debt that has become burdensome. in addition to the legitimate kind. it is liquidated. Sooner or later.THE BURDEN OF THE NATIONAL DEBT History may not teach anything (to those who do not wish to learn). (the burden!) of the obligations. The other kind consists in a gradual depreciation of the currency. is one technique. including ours.

are "no burden. Once the principle that debts have to be repaid sooner or later is forgotten. It prefers to believe that red is black. quoting a widely used college textbook: "There is no sign that a high debt exhaus~s the credit of the government . all these on top of a 110 . Actually. the doors of the fool's paradise open wide. as well as a few billions for increased military spending. all monetary inhibitions (which the discipline of the gold standard used to provide!) go with the political wind. that liabilities.' there need be no fear on this account.. the more indebted a nation is. and since as a last resort 'it can borrow from itself." When the national Treasury is unfathomably in the red. The mileage of irresponsibility may be gauged by the Democratic platform of 1960 which promises additional expenditures of $80 billi~n for "rights-of-man" items in the next five years. the nation turns color blind.." When this stage is reached. the more immune it becomes from the fear of national bankruptcy. or at least white.XI THE CURSE OF THE DEBT THE "RATIONALE" OF INFLATION Does it matter how large the national debt is? Not really. if not real assets.

adding up to nearly one-half of the gross debt. A large debt necessitates money-printing and brings about price inflation. At this writing. corporate and municipal bonds would have to b~ greatly reduced. banks and others with excess cash can use three. most of the time. debt ~oneti­ zation virtually is forced on the government by the colossal volume of the debt. Another $48 billion nonmarketable bonds and $6 billion convertibles belong. As it is. They are as good as cash and also yield a III . For parallels in fiscal cynicism one has to go back to the days of the Jacobin-controlled French revolutionary convention. the Treasury is driven into the short-term money market. To avoid "excessive" interest rates and an excessive drain on the long-term funds.to nine month treasury bills. $73 billion marketables are due in one to five years. in effect. one-year certificates. which is still a very short range. Then. An attempt to collect. $100 billion savings for permanent investment in government bonds is out of the question. in the same category. Interest rates would have to rise to prohibitive heights. $70-odd billion marketable obligations are maturing within one year. To borrow short is very convenient-for financial charlatans. if not stopped altogether. say. and similar instrumentalities. No problem of "placing" the bonds. and the flow of capital into mortgages.THE CURSE OF THE DEBT current budget of $81 billion. too.

FICTIONAL FINANCE AND MONETIZATION The implications of this imaginary liquidity are devastating. They also constitute most of the "cash" reserves of the corporations and savings and loan associations. In final analysis. print the money with which to pay -"borrow from itself"). our credit system and our economic "security" rest on the national debt. as demonstrated by the behavior of the average banker. To monetize this kind of debt is a political must." Virtually every cent of what we consider as prime liquid assets is either government paper or a claim on government paper. and there is a safe and secure outlet for them in the central bank. and one-half to two-thirds of the banks' "liquidity. and to turn it into legal tender. Threefifths of the Federal R~serve's assets consist of public securities. He finds that 40 per cent or more of his assets are "prime liquid. The Federal Reserve is here to pick up the slack. The purchasing power thus created has nothing to do with gold or silver or marketable goods or anything tangible. Otherwise. in effect. if any. not only the Treasury's credit but the entire credit structure would be doomed. They are equivalent to cash because the government never defaults (how could it when it may." either paper money or claims on paper money to be issued against government paper. 112 .AN INFLATION PRIMER return.

113 . Now. mortgage loans and "other" loans is stretched. It makes little difference how far the maturity of his business loans. Within very broad limits. and is encouraged to give. his situation remains comfortable and unassailable. he finances construction that will pay its way only if the inflation continues indefinitely. provided he observes the customary rituals. and so on. prices and tensions-based on the inlplicit myth of the central bank's inexhaustible capacity to maintain. Financially. as we did in the 1920's. mortgage credit to young couples with or without secure jobs. legally and statistically. he gives. a gigantic structure of artificial bond values generates the lubricant of an equally fictitious prosperity-at mounting costs. the system's liquidity. a gigantic structure' of stock-market values provided the fictitious liquidity that oiled the wheels of a mythical prosperity. But his bank exudes "liquidity. he uses sight deposits to extend term loans (up to ten years) on oil-in-theground without a thought to the future price of overproduced oil. Then. or how good the credit of the respective debtors is." as at no other time before 1934. He pours out installment credit by mortgaging the car and forgetting to check on the car's owner. he can proceed to make loans in almost any iI-liquid fashion.THE CURSE OF THE DEBT present or future. at little or no down payment. by debt monetization. we live in a world of fiction.

security and real estate values. and sparking an outflow of gold. Banks and financial institutions. actual or potential. impairing the balance of payments. what would stop the Congress from forcing the central bank's hand? We do not doubt that the Congress is almighty. The demand for those obligations could dry up overnight. As things stand now. and many individuals would find themselves in a highly uncomfortable condition. A scramble for "cash" could develop into an old-fashioned money panic. or to accept all- 114 . The question is. At any rate. they might be faced with far-reaching liquidations. business corporations. But why should the Federal Reserve stop monetizing "whenever needed" to maintain the fiction of ample liquidity? And if it were reluctant. Instead of swimming in liquidity. or to loan on. any more obligations of the national government (to say nothing of unloading an appreciable portion of its portfolio). based as they are on the assumuption of an indefinite credit flow. would be in for a severe beating. debt monetization by the Federal Reserve could not be resumed on a major scale without giving a fresh impetus to the vicious wage-price spiral.AN INFLATION PRIMER The direct monetary consequences are patent. merely. whether economic forces can be outlegislated. Suppose the Federal Reserve would suddenly refuse to buy. Unless we are ready to take another dollar devaluation on the chin. so far as legislation is concerned.

corporate. the inflated national debt is the pillar that holds up an overinflated and rapidly growing structure of nonfederal (municipal. The addition in 1959 (net. And there is another Damocles sword hanging over the national economy. after repayments) amounted to $57. But that ominous reminder does not tell the full story. corporate. wage. What matters is the selfaccelerating growth of the nonfederal debt tower. when it collapsed by its own weight. the growth of private. one that is being neglected. and individual) debts.1 billion at the end of 1959. if not ignored.4 billion. and foreign-exchange controllet alone the mass unemployment in the wake of a progressive inflation-the volume of Federal Reserve credit must be kept under control. and 115 . Totaling an estimated $603. in the controversy about creeping inflation. $7 billion more than in the previous peak year of 1957 and practically equaling its own increase in eight years of the booming twenties! Patently. faster than productive investment or industrial output. EXPANDING ON OVERDRAFT Technically and psychologically. That paper edifice is growing faster than the money volume or people's net income or net savings.THE CURSE OF THE DEBT round price. the largest ever. the net private-plusmunicipal debt is now three and one-half times~ what it was thirty years ago.

it lacks nothing but foresight (and hindsight!). and some of it . run far ahead of the other. and family budgets gets 116 . corporations. in effect. for how could the debts be serviced and amortized.e "leverage" in the financial setup of communities. credits (debts) provide the means' of expanding the industrial capacity-from inventories and machines to buildings and plants-and an incentive to do so. and cannot. Living in a financial Eden. dialectics. it ignores the serpent in the Garden.AN INFLATION PRIMER municipal debts-leaving aside the federal debtfinances our economic growth. it is built into his mind.surely is. His is a mind equipped with statistics. Indeed. the mone~ serves to enlarge production and productive facilities. for wasteful consumption or sheer gambling. But th. unless the borrowing is done. It is equally patent that the one "growth" must not. Recourse on the national debt and its monetization is the built-in safeguard of the inflationist. and wishfulness. if not from the output of the investment which they financed? But the nonfederal debt zooms ahead of the GNP. a large slice of the GNP consists of things (such as military hardware) and services (of bureaucrats. Directly or by indirection. for example) which cost a lot but are not acceptable in payment to creditors. Its name is overexpansion. at that.1 DEBT LIQUIDATION With regard to nonfederal debts.

a period of economic stagnation is bound to be the reward for a prolonged process of capital erosion. under way. What remains is recourse on the central bank. it will bring about a run on the dollar. It may have no untapped tax sources left. CREEPING INFLATION'S SUICIDE . The crisis is unavoidable. back of the excessive capacities and malinvestments which their claims are supposed to represent. In either case. not man-made) of the financial market place will terminate the reckless debt inflation. with or without raising the interest rates. when people awaken to the understanding that there are no real values. Fortunately. that is. It does so by restraining the banks whose liquidity is impaired. fostered for years by a turbulent expansion of private and corporate debts. Rise they 117 . nay. The built-in automatism (a real one. By then. the government will not be able to step in to save the day and maintain the growth. as it was unavoidable in the past. and we are heading for a devastating break of the dams which hold a pernicious liquidation from floodin~ the rampart of the economy. Economic growth may be. earning power. at worst. there is salvation in prospect.THE CURSE OF THE DEBT shorter and shorter. and has been. and it will have exhausted its debt resources-overdrawn on its own credit. money printing may smooth the liquidation process. at best. When the latter burst at the seams.

118 . Advocates of the welfare state ignore elementary economics: that full employment of a durable nature can be arrived at only if prices and costs adjust themselves to the market. 1. by the inflation of debts. November-December. Creeping inflation is a costly and dangerous luxury which only an economy that is not loaded with debts as yet can afford. if the super-boom is rekindled. P.fixed-interest assets. For an early consideration of this menace. individual savers may be barnboozled by solemn and meaningless assertions of maintaining artificial full employment and stability under the freely spending welfare state. see R. Dlin's "Are We Building Too Much Capacity?" Harvard Business Review. But the necessary adjustments are postponed.AN INFLATION PRIMER must. because the vastrcredit demand of the would-be debtors clashes with a growing reluctance of the capital owners and managers to invest in futility. 1955. Savings institutions are compelled to buy . if not stymied.

He would rank today as a right-wing Republican. we take neither gold nor promissory notes for the excess of goods we ship. an excessive gold inflow sparked freakish proposals in the opposite direction. Then. I think most Americans agree with me. we give the foreigners our own promissory notes (dollar balances) 119 . I prefer the gold to pieces of foreign paper. "Gold shortage and global devaluation" was the battle cry of the money cranks in ·the late twenties. the dollar was indeed "good as gold" again.XII THE DOLLAR ON THE SICKBED "GOOD AS GOLD" The modern history of gold is rich in controversies. Morgenthau. instead. in the thirties. FDR's Secretary of the Treasury. These proposals were answered on Friday. as a nation. varying from an import tax on gold to its total demonetization. The phrase "good as gold" still has real meaning in the world. His common-sense statement came virtually at the historic moment when common sense and American monetary policy parted company. May 3. The speaker was Mr. 1940) as follows: For the excess of goods we shipped and for the dollar credits we granted we have taken gold in the last six years instead of promissory notes. In 1940. Since then.

indicated the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board on February 24. "Proper United States policy. . Actually. THE SICK BALANCE OF PAYMENTS The threat to the dollar is due to a persistent deficit in the country's international accounts. The candle of the dollar is burning at both ends. we are up against an explosive problem posed by the relentless growth of short-term dollar claims in the hands of foreigners and the simultaneous erosion of the gold reserve that is the coverage of last resort of a rapidly growing money supply. Yet." The dilemma to which the chairman was referring-the choice between losing our gold and restraining the inflation-is far from hypothetical or easily preventable. too. Table A summarizes in the conventional fashion 120 . Nothing wrong with all that.AN INFLATION PRIMER as a sort of bonus." he said. "could prevent any . return on investments) produces an export surplus every year. for the last decade our over-all balance of payments showed a deficit in every single year-more payments due than receipts coming in. 1960) after the country had lost nearly $3~ billion of gold in two years. . transportation. Our balance of trade with the outside world (merchandise and services. 'hypothetical dilemma' [due to our continuous balance of payments deficits] from arising. lately we "ship" out the gold. including tourist traffic.

.9 .0 2. B. in unilateral payments.. 1950.. ...6. and C: U....6 -3. .6 -10.3 5. What brings about the huge deficiency in the over-all balance is shown in Table B: the cornucopia of governmental handouts and military spending abroad.6 ..7 ...7 -1.S.THE DOLLAR ON THE SICK.. 1952. BED TABLE A4t U.8 -2..7 4. .9 4.7 -1.S...7 6. 1949.7. Department of Commerce....8..3 6.. But private investments and remittances abroad absorb only a small part of our trade surplus... 1959 ... 1954..6...7 -3.8 -6. (They may be considered the balancing items......4 1.. 1955 to 1960.. Tables A. 1955. 1956.6 6..4 11.6.6. 1957.. as we shall see~) It shows that billions more than the excess we earn businesswise is either given away by the government or lent out and remitted privately..2 .6..2 4.. 1948.6 -1.. 1953.0 -1......7 4.6...7 .. Government Goods & Services & Privates (Net) $ 7. 195L.. BALANCE OF PAYMENTS-WITHOUT GOLD AND FOREIGN CAPITAL MOVEMENTS (Billions of Dollars) Trade Balance: Surplus of Unilateral Payments Exports or and Loans by Imports (-) of U.! 121 .4 1.. 1954.5 .. 1958. 1947. Surplus or Deficit (-) $1. ..6 8.4 1946.9 -2. the recent development of our international balance of payments. omitting the in-and-out movements of gold and of foreign capital.8.4 . . .8.5 ·Source.. .7..0 5.6.0 -0. and the June issues. ....9 . Survey of Current Business.2 .1 -0..8. July.0 .8 $.3 ..4 .S..

4 S 0. or the foreigners leave the money in the United States by acquiring bank balances and short-term treasury paper.S.7 51.6 27.9 6. . But the main offsetting items are two: either we pay in internationally acceptable cash. U.7 3.S.< 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 Total . . Government Handouts (Nonmilitary) Year 1950 1951 1952 1953. What has actually happened is set out in Table C.5 2.1 24. which is gold.0 2. the United States had lost $5 billion gold. Three of every four "excess" dollars our govern122 . .526 billion left our gold reserve in the first eight and one-half months of 1960. FOREIGN ACCOUNTS (Billions of Dollars) Net U.7 2.7 4.2 3. .1 5.5 5. Another $0.3 2.6 4.5 2.8 3.5 2.S." Another fraction is covered by the net inflow of foreign long-term investments.6 1.3 2. . exactly $5.2 6.3 2.8 3. . .4 Total S 4.5 4.3 5.4 3.8 2. Military Spending Abroad (Net) S 3.264 billion since August.3 4. . . 1947.0 3.AN INFLATION PRIMER TABLE B SOURCES OF DE'FICIT ON U.2 1. A fraction of the annual deficiency is accounted for by unaccounted items: "errors and omissions.8 DOLLARS IN OVERSUPPLY By the end of 1959. .5 2.

THE DOLLAR ON THE SICK BED

TABLE C
U.S.
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS DEFICIT AND OFFSETTING ITEMS

(Billions of Dollars) Gold Net Inflow Statistical Gain of Foreign Errors and (-) or Capital Omissions Loss *
. . . . . . . . . . .
$1.7 $1.9

Year
1950

Total Balance of OffPayments Setting Deficit Items (from Table A)
$3.6 $-3.7

1951. 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 TotaL

-0.1
-0.4

1.2 0.3

0.6 1.6 1.1

0.5
0.5

t

1.0
1.7 2.5

-1.0
-1.8

0.2

1.4
1.4 1.8

-0.3 -0.8
2.3

t

0.7
1.2

5.0

1.1

4.7
16.4

0.5 0.6 0.8 0.4 0.8

t

1.7
1.9

2.1 0.7 4.0 6.6

-2.6 -1.7 -1.9 -2.1 -0.7
-3.8

-6.5

·Gold "gain" means import of gold; hence minus sign. tLess than 0.05.

ment dissipates abroad return like homing pigeons as claims on our gold reserve. At latest count (end of June, 1960) foreign-owned bank balances and short-term treasury securities amounted to $20.34 billion, having doubled in ten years. That is not all. American liquid assets, including currency, owned by foreigners other than banks and public authorities, may now stand around $2.4 billion. (The official estimate was $2.676 billion for 1957 and $2.522 billion for 1958.) Also, $2.3 billion of U.S. government notes and bonds with "original" maturities of more than one year are held by banks abroad and could be liquidated on fairly, short notice. At this writing, the total of foreign-held liquid dollar assets is in the order of $25-odd billion (Table D). 123

AN INFLATION PRIMER

TABLE End of Year 1949 1950 1957 1958 1959 Mid-1960 9/14/60 Foreign Liquid Assets t in U.S. (in millions) $ 9,757 11,715 18,593 19,597 23,723 25,175 not available


U.S. Gold Reserve
(in millions) $24,563 22,820 22,857 20,582 19,507 19,363 18,939

. . . . . . .

Ratio (%) of Foreign Claims to Gold 39.7 51.3 81.3 95.2 121.6 130.0 n.a.

·Sources: U.S. Department of Commerce, Survey of Current Business, August, 1959, and June, 1960; Federal Reserve Bulletin, August, 1960. tlncluding U.S. government securities with original maturities of more than one year and estimated foreign nonbank holdings of American liquid assets.

The outer world's dollar shortage (that was to last forever, remember?) turned into an oversupply of dollars abroad. This is a unique situation: a country deliberately and systematically squanders its gold reserve and piles up a mountain of "hot-money" obligations of the most volatile sort, though it does not wish to impair the gold value of its currency. To make things worse, the Federal Reserve deliberately lowers its discount rates to foster domestic inflation-and the gold outflow.
CAN THE BALANCE OF PAYMENTS BE REDRESSED?

The give-away programs are a built-in feature of our national policy. In the official theory, they are a must for the cold war. Why they have to total an annual $8 to $9 billion, rather than $5 billion

124

THE DOLLAR ON THE SICK BED

or $11 billion, has never been explained. The standards, if any, by which the volume of this fantastic subsidy (to the special interests in exports) is determined, are seemingly divorced from any concern about the balance of payments, the gold stock, or the stability of the dollar. There is scant likelihood that o'ur balance of trade should improve greatly and in a lasting fashion. 'l"he huge surpluses of the early post.. 1945 era (Table A) are out of the question since Europe's and Japan's recovery. Their competitive prowess makes itself felt sharply along innumerable lines of merchandise. It is greatly strengthened by operations under American licenses and by the exodus of American firms in search of more profiitable climates. If our exports have risen this this year (1960) as against last, it is largely because of the coincidence of a domestic slowdown with a superboom abroad. However, unit cost differentials still tend to broaden in our disfavor, due to the effect of (American-financed) technological progress abroad, combined with much lower wages there than on this side. Once the cyclical slowdown reaches Europe, as it well may, and nonrecurrent factors fade out,2 European exports will increase and their imports from the United States will decline. Two-fifths of our exports consist of raw commodities and semimanufactured items, the ~eakest links in the world price structure. Foodstuff im-

125

Most industrial staple prices are depressed. garrisons in the host countries may discourage their own armament efforts. Washington nods to European "integration" movements.S. to "play the game" and chip in with credits to the underdeveloped nations. The discussion about tying our aid directly to our exports has died down. especially Germany. What they contribute (mostly in their own "backyards") means an addition to. a severe domestic recession would do. government pressures the Allies. the U. At that. As to economizing on imports. although their result is to discriminate against our exports. This the Allies do.AN INFLATION PRIMER ports are restrained everywhere. 126 . Shifting a major part of the cost of maintaining u. a moderate recession in Europe would bring them down further. they run counter to the national policy of fostering interna- tional trade and would boomerang in higher domestic costs and fewer exports. In its embarrassment.s. the unloading of farm surpluses (unless in exchange for payment in irredeemable currencies) is up against severe obstacles. petroleum. our aid. rather than a substitute for. and metal exports which accounted for more than half the 1958-59 shrinkage in our total exports. on a moderate scale. it would not solve the problem anyway. There is no hope for an early revival of our coal. ironically. Higher tariffs and restrictive quotas would not do.

the government owns $2. are not included among the unilateral payments. and they do not affect the balance of payments. A temporary upsurge of European demand for cotton. That is not what weare up against. Presently. the effect could only be minor. etc. Uncle Sam did borrow from the International Monetary Fund. In fact. 1. the domestic price structure. but he will have to repay sooner or later. are primarily responsible for the rise of the "visible" trade balance by nearly $2 billion in the first half of 1960. and airplanes. consisting of weapons.THE DOLLAR ON THE SICK BED Foreign governments may be persuaded to accelerate payments on their long-term debts to the United States. the dollar predicament is to continue indefinitely. an attempt to discourage foreign central banks from withdrawing gold would most certainly boomerang. Such stratagems are helpful in a short-lived emergency only. aluminum. 127 . in fact the whole economic system) are intimately linked to gold and its present dollar price. Evidently. If feasible at all. an. How much could be liquidated-risking an international panic-is open to question. How imminent is the menace that they might?-bearing in mind that international trade and finance. They are making advance payments. 2. at least on the "liquid" assets amounting to $5. recourse could be taken to American investments abroad..6 billion (end of 1958).d the "upward adjustment" of our cotton and wheat subsidies. Merchandise exports are likely to increase in a recession.14 billion. Theoretically. Military transfers under grants. foreigners could claim some 30 per cent more gold than we possess.

We have lost in less 128 . before the incoming Kennedy administration will have to take drastic steps-and. it took nearly eight years before his administration discovered that the country is up against an impending balance-of-payment crisis. Unfortunately. As these lines go to press. It will not take eight months. the precious resources of tomorrow. There is nothing "impending" about it any longer. especially.XIII THE SAD PREDICAMENT OF THE FOOL'S PARADISE HEADING FOR INSOLVENCY "We-you and I and our Government-must avoid the impulse to live only for today." These were the memorable farewell words of President Eisenhower. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come. to leave out some it was planning to take-in order to cope with that crisis. possibly not even eight weeks. "We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their potential and spiritual heritage. not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow. the problem has reached the critical stage. plundering for our own ease and convenience.

and other markets? Our balance of payments is "leaking" in several places. it has irresponsibly lowered and kept low the short-term money rates. over $5 billion in 1959. Where are the surplus dollars coming from. A temporary leak was created by the Federal Reserve System itself. including the gold borrowed from the International Monetary Fund). an estimated $3. peopIe have come to suspect that the dollar will be 129 . However. The result was a great deal of American capital flow to London and Frankfurt.3 billion in 1958. thereby creating a broad-yield differential between foreign and domestic credit instruments.2 billion of our gold reserve (closer to $6 billion. Toronto. the differential has been cu~ to a point where it scarcely covers the costs involved in transferring short-term funds from these shores to the others. to be turned into gold by redemption at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or by purchasing gold on the London. Potentially far more important is a second leak: flight from the dollar. Since early 1960. more than $2 billion in the last four months to mid-January.5 to $4 billion "only" in 1960. since the European central banks willy-nilly reduced their discount rates (in order to please the Americans).AN INFLATION PRIMER I than three years over $5. At home and abroad. 1961. through which dollar claims are flowing out in excessive quantities: $3.

for the American: to hedge by buying gold or gold certificates. the domestic cost-price inflation. A rational reaction is. it could scarcely be policed. so far. indirectly. it is caused by lack of trust in our willingness to defend the dollar. The latter reduces the export prowess of American business. EROSION-HOW MUCH LONGER? That brings us to the decisive "holes" from which the deterioration of the payments balance and the consequent gold outflow stems. and generates excessive imports. Mr. Eisenhower's order to liquidate gold holdings held abroad affects residents of this country only. But the total of such transactio~s has been. If our private consumption is "conspicuous. to overcome the persistent deficit in our balance of payments. it amounts to fighting the smoke. for the foreigner: to get rid of his dollars.THE SAD PREDICA1VIENT OF THE FOOL'S PARADISE devalued. fosters the emigration of American plants. it is because of unreasonable taxation and of inflation fears that induce reckless spending and purely speculative investing. rather than the fire that produces the smoke. They are: directly. possibly even on money borrowed abroad (on 97 per cent margin)." as we are being told. totaling between $8 billion and $9 billion a year. the proverbial drop in the bucket. the lavishment of governmental expenditures abroad. The run on the dollar is not caused by the run on the dollar. As 130 . 1 In any case.

as a rUlle. How long can the creditors feel assured that their claims are really worth the gold if the pile of claims-over $27 billion already. Where we are presently. The enormous economic toll of featherbedding which is rapidly turning this into a high-cost economy. Japan) refrain. Perhaps most important of all. We are witnessing the collapse of individual responsibility.AN INFLATION PRIMER to our ability to compete. . ." was aptly summarized by the Wall Street Journal: Frequently shoddy workmanship. the central banks of the industrial nations (Europe. in world markets. it is moral. For what we are witnessing on every side is not only the financial disintegration of governments. products to compete. They are claims on gold. with the gold reserve down to $17. in the ratio of an ounce of gold of 9/ IOths fineness to each $35. as once they did. add up to an abundance of dollar balances and claims in foreign hands. . -Canada. Reduced exports and high imports. if there is softness in America today it is not primarily inferior education or "inadequate" public spending but this union and statist sponsored philosophy of indolence. The problem is more than economic. the erosion of values once held high. Disdain for the contract. on top of the "political" dollar flow. after many years of spoon-fed "growth. we formerly led the world in technological progress. from withdraw131 .5 billion-keeps rising at a daily rate of well over $10 million? Presently. Crippling strikes for whimsical reasons. as reflected in the inability of U.S.

and the collapse of. is to cut the cloth to the size of the figure-to hold the deliberate outpour of funds within the limits set by the surplus produced through current (commercial) transactions with the outer world. the freedom to act with some degree of financial independence." is the ultimate regu132 ." of which no major fraction could be withdrawn without sparking a panic on. But of the funds they acquire from here on. As to bolstering that commercial surplus.. there is one effective way. you lose your gold. is at stake. the addicts of managed money and creeping inflation ignore the "golden rule" of a free society. the dollar. As it is. Gold. then. they cannot indefinitely tie up in dollar balances their ultimate liquidity reserves while the dollar's convertibility is not assured.THE SAD PREDICAMENT OF THE FOOL'S PARADISE ing dollar funds they had accumulated on this side. Their monetary sovereignty. they cannot help but consider dollar reserves as a permanent "investment. AT THE END OF CREEPING INFLATION'S ROPE With their eyes riveted on the gross national product and similar "aggregate" concoctions. about 75 per cent is being converted into gold. It is this: If you overstrain your financial system. one only: balance the budget and stop the monetization of the national debt by the Federal Reserve System. Naturally. Our problem. pooh-poohed by the pseudoliberals as a "barbaric relic.

That is why the people of the East. with centuries of experience of rascality by rulers. 1960. bandits and other depredators on human welfare. George Schwartz. November 13. Gold is the governor that restrains the credit apparatus from expanding wildly and the welfare states from running headlong into collectivism. hoard a few pieces of gold against the days of pillage and spoliation. if not into ruthless tyranny. and wages. There is no escape from the rule of gold. if America. "Really Cheap Money. Raising the dollar price of gold would be the signal to devalue all currencies-global inflation with all-round. domestic prices. It would be the greatest irony of history. by exporting inflation) would force the 133 .AN INFLATION PRIMER lator that keeps the economic world in balance. acquired by an expensive and ugly outlay of human toil. It imposes some monetary discipline by affording a safeguard. except by taking national insolvency on the chin. profits. The attraction and virtues of gold are that governments can't roll it off or create it with the stroke of a pen. and an unparalleled tragedy for western civilization. debasement and other forms of spoliation. a store of value which may escape looting. And it is precisely because governments in our time have grossly debauched the currency that they now hope to cover up the distortions by manipulating the price of gold. which is what dollar devaluation means." The Sunday Times) London. semi- totalitarian controls over international transactions. That is why the supposedly enlightened peoples of the West have to tie their money systems in some way to a real commodity.

At that point. political. inevitably rising prices would make illusory all (alleged) advantages resulting from a boost of the gold price and would call for more of the same fake medicine. tries hard but does not succeed in stopping gamblers from transferring domestic funds with which to play in Australian lotteries.THE SAD PREDICAMENT OF THE FOOL'S PARADISE world back into the commercial and monetary chaos from which it has been slowly emergingwiping out the stabilization. Irish sweepstakes. and British football pools. 134 . and prestige advantages accruing to the Soviets. an island country. Little New Zealand. with the material. 1. And it would mean a thorough defeat in the cold war. for the sake of which the American taxpayer has spent a round $80 billion since World War II.

The facts are. a bitterly fought issue for centuries. even bonds and 135 . A latest sample is the complaint that we are suffering from deflation: in the twelve-month period to the end of May. bank loans increased by $12 billion. ranging from the . let's hurry and print more money.APPENDIX MONEY SUPPLY AND INFLATION WHAT IS MONEY SUPPLY? The collectivist propensity to invent fresh arguments in order to justify ever more inflation is something to behold. the money supply-meaning the sum of currency outside the banks and adjusted net demand deposits in the banks-has declined by $3 billion.5 per cent. and the consumer price index went up by 2 per cent. however.eighteenth century doctrine (David Hume) that all credit instruments are money. Just what is the money supply-supply of what? At stake is the definition of money. or almost 10 per cent. 1960. Monetary policies were built on arbitrary definitions. or 2. So. that during the current (alleged) decline of the money supply the net volume of outstanding debts rose by $50 billion or more.

they serve also as a 136 . stilileaving a wide range of "freedom" for arbitrary choice. Accordingly. withdrawals amount to 60 per cent or more of incoming payments. 1 But the latter do turn around.of England notes were to be counted. ALL DEPOSITS ARE MONEY What. unless it is sheer convenience.MONEY SUPPLY AND INFLATION- shares of common stocks. checking accounts have a higher "velocity of circulation" than savings accounts. there is virtual agreement that the concept has to be broader than the latter definition and narrower than the former. is the justification for using the figure of cash-plus-demand-deposits as the measure of the money supply. we have to include not only the "active" money in process of being turned over during a chosen period but also all other instruments which might be used for payment. and of claims on the same. True. which is not being enforced. then. Of course. Savings accounts are subject to a mere 30 days' notice provision. even if they are "idle" at the time. excluding the time and savings deposits--as it is customary in Europe? None whatsoever. Presently. the choice of a definition depends on the functional purpose it is supposed to serve. that are or may become effective demand for goods and services. to the dogma underlying the Peel's Bank Charter Act of 1844 that only gold coins and Bank . What we want to know is the volume of all media of exchange.

AN INFLATION PRIMER base for "pyramiding" deposits. This is implicitly recognized by the law that prescribes mandatory minimum-liquidity reserves for all kinds of bank deposits. considering them as "idle" purchasing power. presumably. though not subject to statutory cash reserve requirements. Yet/ their "savings capital"-that grows at an annual rate of $6 to $7 billion (I)-is no different in monetary character from savings deposits in banks. Nor are these deposits turned over at a much lower rate. (The banks hold an equal amount of government securities against government deposits. except those of the government. People's "liquidity" status and financial dispositions are not affected by juristic subtilities and technicalities. money is what people consider as purchasing power.. One kind of deposit is as good as another. In their own minds. But they are being paid out. there is no legal obligation to redeem them on demand. and the owners regard them as equivalent to cash. True. But savings and loan associations are omitted on the grounds. that they are not banks in the legal terminology. provided it is promptly redeemable into legal tender at virtual face value and is ac137 .) The Federal Reserve Bulletin's monthly tabulation of the monetary and banking system's Consolidated Conditions includes under "deposits adjusted and currency" alIso-called time deposits (an improper designation). available at once or shortly.

As long as free transferability obtains from one reservoir to the other. due to the higher reserve requirements for demand deposits. 138 . SAVINGS AND SEMANTICS For the decision to buy a home it is irrelevant whether the money needed for down payment is held in a bank.MONEY SUPPLY AND INFLATION cepted in settling debts. in all three. someone is refraining from consumption (for the time being). As a matter of fact. the deposits cannot differ in function or value. savings banks and associations do exactly what commercial banks do: they build a credit structure on fractional reserves. The former are no more and no less "saved" than are the funds put on a checking account or the currency held in stockings. or in a safe box. A source of confusion is the identification of savings deposits with savings. in a savings institution. The "money supply" is available in any case. The volume of total demand for goods and services is not affected by the distribution of purchasing power among the diverse reservoirs into which that purchasing power is placed. They do so even more "effectively" than the commercial banks. the funds constitute actual purchasing power. "printed" by a governmental agency. And it makes no difference in this context how the purchasing power is generated originally: dug out of a gold mine. or "created" by a bank loan. In all three cases.

high-class commercial paper and "street loans" were used for this function at one time or another. Since 1934. Bankers' acceptances. But there are credit instruments which. There are numerous shades of transition from money to non-money. whether active or idle. That brings us to the "potential" money supply. 139 . The actual money supply. can be turned at all times and without loss of capital into active purchasing power. certificates) have taken over the function on an unprecedented scale. are all claims on stated sums of currency to be considered as parts of the money supply? Or where is the line to be drawn? As in most matters human. Everything is money." POTENTIAL MONEY But then. It all depends on the circumstances which determine the judgment of the market place. notes. whether on demand or on savings accounts. should dispel the semantic confusion caused by the ambivalent use of the term "savings. though not directly usable to make payments. to repeat. that is usable as such or is readily monetizable. consists of legal tender and its substitutes.AN INFLATION PRIMER The fact alone that for credit expansion the commercial· banks indiscriminately utilize all deposited funds. treasury securities of not more than one-year lifetime (bills. there is no cut-and-dried line of demarcation.

was held by nonbank investors. (This is implicit in its policy of maintaining an "orderly market" for government obligations.MONEY SUPPLY AND INFLATION They are alternatives to cash. At the end of last May about $45. because they can be turned into cash on short notice. Funds are being shifted from deposits into short treasuries. they become equivalents of money and a temporary repository of major funds in the hands of the public. or the opposite. and vice versa. They are primeliquid assets. but the owners either do not contemplate such premature liquidation or expect to be compensated by the return they had earned in the meantime.4 billion of short (up to one year) treasuries. in the process. just like bank balances. As customers depleted their accounts in order to buy federal short maturities. the volume of demand deposits appears to undergo a deflation. Liquidation before maturity may cause a loss if the interest rate has risen after the purchase. in the market's opinion. having ready market as interest-yielding near-demand deposits which cannot go in default-if only because the central bank is expected to monetize them. Which is what happened recently.) Thereby. the "money supply" in terms of currency-plus-demand-deposit has contracted for the simple reason that the banks used the proceeds from the sale of treasury securities to reduce their debts at the federal reserve 140 . or $21 billion more than five years earlier. in ultimate resort.

p.] Committee on the Working of the monetary System Report) London." A classic case of the thoughtless application of a conventional concept has been provided by the economists of the International Monetary Fund. In this country. "LIQUIDITY" VERSUS MONEY SUPPLY The question at stake is not to find a definition suitable for the textbooks. But of course. as a quantitative base for the understanding (forecasting?) of price-level trends and for the guidance of m~ne­ tary policy. if not altogether. August. Monetary action works upon total demand by altering the liquidity position of financial institutions and of firms and people desiring to spend on real resources. frustrated by the unwieldy volume of overhanging "liquidity. even misleading. 135. the central bank's . As the (British) Radcliffe Report put it cogently: The immediate object of monetary action is to affect the level of total demand. The conventional money-supply notion is totally unsatisfactory. 1959. [Italics ours. as in Britain. In 1952. the supply of money itself is not the critical factor. The question is: to determine the "dimension" relevant for monetary policy. they announced with fanfares that the Western world's inflation troubles were over- 141 .AN INFLATION PRIMER banks.attempts to check the inflation are to a large extent. the total money volumeactual and potential combined-was not affected.

provided the world remains at peace." A more realistic application of the concept appears. The dismal record of that forecast did not inhibit Per Jacobsson. a large. indeed. in the August. the IMF's managing director. The comment (without reference to Mr. he made the following statement in the 1954-55 Annual Report of that institution (p. Compare the June. Special Bulletin of the American Institute for Economic Research.MONEY SUPPLY AND INFLATION prices have caught up with the inflated "money supply. but statistically unknown." 1. Great Barrington. indeed. to this question at this point would be foolhardy. is being "hoarded" in substantial volume. 80): "It seems. 1957. very likely that. As head of the Bank for International Settlements. Yet the "idle purchasing media" are generally counted as part of the active money supply. Actually. to come out lately with the same wishful statement that "wartime inflation" has come to an end and price stability has returned to the free world. 1960. the inflationary phase of post-war economic development has now come to an end. too. Monthly Review of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Jacobssonhas expressed such unwarranted optimism. 142 . Mass. Currency. Jacobsson) is: "Has the economic environment changed so much that the money supply is no longer excessive as it was in most of the post-war period? He who would give a firm answer. This is not the first time that Mr." They forgot all about the vast volume of monetizable public debt almost everywhere. portion of demand deposits is permanently inactive.

N. Gold in World Monetary Affairs Today.. New York: Columbia University Press. The Economic Analysis of Labor Union Power. Chamberlin. J. E. Henry. 1949. Princeton. 34. Bell. Princeton.J.. Harwood. Conn.' Wage Determination-An Analysis of Wage Criteria. Mass. D.J. ("Essays in International Finance. New York: Macmillan Company.)... Inc. 1959. 1957. E. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. W. Lester.J. W. New York: Harper & Brothers. Bauer.. R. Inc. Cause and Control of the Business Cycle. W. How Much Is a $? San Antonio. Twenty Years of Public Housing. 1959. and Yamey. D. Washington. Edward H.: American Institute for Economic Research. Briefs.. Monopoly in America. Tex.) Princeton. Walter.: American Enterprise Association. Basil S.: D. Nussbaum. G6tz. (eds. A. Van Nostrand Co. and Gray. Miroslav A. A Proper Monetary and Banking System for the United States.: American Enterprise Association. E. Hazlitt.: Naylor Co. A. 1959. 1960. 1959. 143 .J.. Unions and Capitalism. Backman 1 Jules. N." No. N. Great Barrington. New Haven. The Failure of the ~New Economics': An Analysis of the Keynesian Fallacies. Fisher.. 1955. C. 1955. London: Oxford University Press. McCaleb. 1957'. Unionism Reappraised. 1957.C. and Spahr. Washington. 1959. J. A History of the Dollar. Peter T. A. 5th ed. Horace M.: D. C. Van Nostrand Go. 1960. The Economics of Underdeveloped Countries.: Princeton University Press. As Unions Mature. Kriz.BIBLIOGRAPHY: A SELECTION Adams.: Yale University Press. N.C. The Great Inflation 1939-1951. Brown. F. Robert Moore. Lindblom. Princeton. 1959. 1958. New York: Ronald Press Co.: Princeton University Press.

The Case for the Gold Standard. 1946.. New York: Economists' National Committee on Monetary Policy. The Political . George.A. Winder. N. New York: Economists' National Committee on Monetary Policy. Helmut. Foreign Aid Reexamined.: Public Affairs Press. Sylvester.C. D. Irvington-on-Hudson.: Machinery and Allied Products Institute. Schlesinger. D. 1950. Chicago: Henry Regnery Co. . and Schoeck. New York: Frederick A.Petro. 1942. James R. New York: Harper & Brothers. Labor Unions and the Concept of Public Service. 1959. New York: Appleton Co. 1938.. Wiggins. 1940. D. Labor U..University Press. James W.Economy of National Security. 144 . 1960. Paul L.C. Velie. London: Newman Wright. 1957. Corporate Profits in the Decade 1947-1956. Walter E.S. Torff. Andrew D. Ltd..: American Enterprise Association.. Lester. White. 1959. The Creation of Purchasing Power. Washington. Collective Bargaining: Negotiations and Agreements. The Pension Idea.Y. Praeger.. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. Pound.. David M. Terborgh. of Money. Washington. Fiat Money Inflation in France. It's Your Money. 1896. Poirot.. New York: Economists' National Committee on Monetary Policy.C. Inc. 1959. A Short History Neame. Power Unlimited-The Corruption of Union Leadership. London: Cambridge . Inc.. Inc. Humane Economy. . 1959. Washington. Wilhelm. An Appraisal of the Monetary Policies of Our Federal Government~ 1933-1938. Ropke. 1958.. Roscoe.: Foundation for Economic Education. 1953.. 1960. Selwyn H. New York: Ronald Press Co. Spahr.. George.

INDEX .

.

. V.....•.. 77-82. 131 Capacity to pay .....64-65.. 92-93. 137 Bankruptcy (default) .88-89....... and Spahr.. 70. 59.•.. 11-12.•••••••... credit) burden of 6....102 Crossman... H.79-83.. • .. 109.•.......113 municipal ... 100. and Gray..•..•• 14-15. 37 Briefs...••... 8 cutting .•.....94......... J •.•..•. 96. B.. 80-82 Austerity •..•. 130 Contracyclical policies . ....•. 134 Collectivism .. E.. Jules 144 Balance of payments..••.. 34.... 83 Cost of living.••.. 144 "Big" business 50-51 "Bills only" 22 Bolshevism 76-77.97.. 77 (see also: price mechanism. 82. 102 Bureaucracy...•••.•.. 97 Deficit finance 28 Deposit insurance .......99 Boulding. 59-60 Chamberlin.. 125-26 Consumer debt 89-94 Consumption... 106-8 Bank for International Settlements 142 Bank portfolios .•••••. 63-64... 14-15.. "rationale" of . 88-92.. J.144 Anthracite 49 Anti-capitalistic sentiment..•••••.•.. 65 shortcomings of .. 56.. Professor Walter E...... and Hopkins..•.142..•. defeat in .. 103 inflation of 87-88 liquidation of 116-17 mortgage . Peter. deterioration of 55.. 144 Clayton Act •. 97...••. monopoly) international .•. 50-51... 95-96 creation of 10-17... 50 Cold war.... and Yamey.••... 81 Central banking (see also: Federal Reserve) inflation and freedom .•.•••..•. 64... 93 Backman.91-92... K.. Richard .. 70 Budget. "conspicuous" .••••••• 144 Bell..•••••••••......... 125-26 Bank examiners 107 Banking system 10...5. P...... Professor Edward H.. 144 Brown.... 135 Commercial and Financial Chronicle •...•. 115-16 personal .. 55 Administered prices . 85 Budgetary controls . 62-63 Corruption ..••.98-109 business 94 debt management 22-27 income and 89-92.. 85 Business cycles. 106-8 Bank reserves . 91 Credit controls .. source of .... bureaucratism .. 105-6 Deposits.... Philip •... 128 Balance of trade 120-21.. Professor A.•.•.••..••••...••.. pyramiding of .•.. unbalanced •.. 64.••..INDEX Adams..•.... 55 "Aggregates" 132 American Institute for Economic Research .•••. monetization...•.... Professor Gotz 144 Brokers'loans .... 72 Competition . W.•.•. 63-67 Business standards...41...•...•••••• 80-81. 120-127.... 14.133 Bauer. W.• 82 Debts (see also: public debt. S.45-47 Capital flight 129-30 gains 55 Capitalism 94-97 people's rationale of ... M. 139 Brown.. 77-78 Cortney.. E. 66-67 of construction ......••.•••••••••••.20 expansion by government 26-27.•.. 34 qualitative...•. 137-39 Depreciation of purchasing power (see inflation) 147 ..•••••... S. H.

.86-87 "legalized robbery" 2-3. 127. The (London) .53 Featherbedding 38.39-40.63-68.. 130 "EJastic currency" 21-22 Employment Act (1946) 78 Erosion of standards. 28. H.. 84-87 vs. 129-30.. Professor J.•.56-57. 121. 68-69.41.. 81-82 freedom and galloping 1-2. income and 78-79. Kenneth 73. 53-54 "exported" 133-34 5 fixed return assets and 59-60. 48-49... meaning of Fringe benefits 30. 18-27. P 70 Home ownership 91.94-95. 130-32 Escalators 36 ·'Eternal prosperity" ......97 Housing.113 Industrial conflicts 32-33.. President ..93 Devaluation 60.• 142 Hopkins.. 51. W 55 Greenbacks . 15-17.••.7.. debts.71-83.......108....4-8....94... money supply) anti-capitalism and 95 built-in 35-38.. 77-78.. 131-32 requirement 21 role of... 130.36 over-expansion and 66.48-49 "cost-push" 30-36 creeping 1-2. 141 148 ..89.•.. 52. 144 Hoarding .... Senator Paul H .63. 122.•.97 debt management 20-27 definition of 2-3. 39 Economic system 77 Economist. 132 freedom of 105 Financial disintegration 131 Fiscallegerdemains 103-5 First National City Bank (New York) 55 Fisher. Mariner S..... Horace M. 61.133-34 Discount rate policy 129 Dollar "shortage" 124 Douglas. subsidized.98-99..... 92-93 Hume..117-18... S. 131 Inflation (see also: monetization.•. 99 Eisenhower. 129. 122-24 loss of .45. 114.82 Gambling (see speculation) General Motors 42 "Gold inflation" 3 Gold price (see devaluation) Gold dollar balances and .... E.•..... 54 employer resistance and . 18-27. 120... 123..81... 134 57-60 Freedom.118 Galbraith..•. V..34. Robert Moore 144 23 ·'F1exibility" "Fools paradise" 128-34 53.49. 28-29. 119.130..132-34 criminality and 33.....•.61 Eccles..5-6 "modus operandi" 10-17..... 37.... 110-12 2-6.76 Gray.. 94 Farm subsidies 34.20 global 133-34 hedges 36 ideology of 98-100.88 perpetual 57 psychology 95.93 Hazlitt. and Adams. Foreign aid 124-25...•.33-34.. 44-45.......84-87...44. 128-29. 128.. 132-33 standard 21.INDEX (continued) Depressions . David 135 Illiquidity 59.. 110 burden of 5-6. progress 65-70.•. 6 Grievance procedures 38 "Growth" balanced .88. 68 debts and 117 ideology of 57. Henry .•.. and Brown... 45 Full employment 34. 131 Federal Reserve System . 85.. 97 source of ....81 rate of 83.

E 144 Liquidation of debts 109 Liquidity 14-15..95-97 taxation and 6-7. 132...•. 82 K. 49 Liberals..80 Patronage State 76 Patterson. "liberal" 35 Interest rates...•. 135-42 Monopolies 50-52. freedom 64..••..•.. 38 monopoly 32-35 shortage 34 Labour Party . A 144 Lewis.•..139-40 Money 136.116.. 93. Miroslav A•....70 149 .•.....77 Margin requirements 96 Martin...98-99.. Professor C. C 67-68.. T 70 Peel's Bank Charter Act 135 Perpetual prosperity 60-63 Petro. . Secretary of Treasury 119 National income (product) . 107-8....•.. 88 Over-the-counter market 96 Paper money (see managed money) Patronage 77-78. 185 Monetary velocity 136 Monetization.... 126 Mills. 61-64... 30-31.. 66 New Zealand 134 Oligopoly 50-51 Open Market Committee 18 Ope~ Market operations 19-20.49..... 78-82.118... John L..44-45 incentives 44 legislation ......66.81-82 Lindblom. economic .. 84-5.eynesians 64 Kriz..84....INDEX (continued) speculation and 7-8. 141-42 fictitious 113 "Listed" prices 51 Lobbies (see pressure groups) Mal-investments 36 Managed money 20-22.•.. 48 Inflationists 56-57.. built in 89 Intelligentsia...47. ...84 Pound..•.•. 56-70 Planning 81..... John Maynard..52. 82 Laissez-faire 56-61. self-styled .•...... Karl (Marxism) 63 Military spending abroad ..••••.. 141-42 Inventory cycles . MGChesney 24-25. 69...... Chajrman W.•. 120 Marx..99-100 International Monetary Fund 127. 68 Laws.58 (see labor) Morgenthau. 91 Monetary discipline 22-23 Monetary expansion 25-26..76-82 Pressure groups 33-35...•.. H 142 92 Kennedy administration 128 Keynes.. 135-37 idle 136-37 potential 139-41 "Money shortage" 64 Money supply 8-9. 121... 35.•.. 144 Labor costs 30-35. Professor R.••..12-17.48-49 disincentives .•.. 139 active definition of . 41 Mobility . 88-90 New Deal 95 New York Times •••• . 35. Professor Sylvester 145 "Philosophy" of inflation ..94.. Dean Roscoe 145 Power vs. 56 Legal tender 18 Lester. 62. 71.93.••..•.135 Instability. 95-96 Jacobsson. inflationary ... 25 Over-expansion (see inflation) Over-loaning 27..81 (lobbies) Price level ... 64.. Professor N...•.55. Per Jacoby.. F.. 65-66 Investment cycles 65-66 Investment trusts .70 Minimum prices .•. 129.111-16. R.

... 42 .. 41 deposits 138 erosion of 5-6.. George 145 Trade unions .•.. D 98 Rueff...75 Treasury-Federal Reserve cooperation .. Andrew D 145 Work rules (see featherbedding) Wright..•. S.. 107 Sherman Act 50 Slichter.... 31-32.45-47 Wage structure .. 79 Tax avoidance (evasion) 7 Tax burden 6-7. Professor S.....104-5 Spahr..42 33 145 71 Wage claims. 79 Switzerland .53.47 Wages (see labor costs.. : 72 Savings bonds . Professor James R 145 Schwartz....49-55 Protectionism .... economic .66.....46. B. Adam 102 Social se<.•.130........ 59.••.... 32-33...48-49. 54-55 institutions . productivity) guaranteed Al Wall Street Journal Al War finance 6 Welfare State (welfarism) 76..... and Bell. 133 Securities and Exchange Commission ...17. Paul 2 "Right to work" 33.... 118 White.....42-47. Peter ••••••••••••• 144 150 .. 49-50.. 93-94.. Professor Wilhelm 97.. 49-50 Teamsters Union 33 Terborgh. wage-price 28-38 "Stabilizers" 41 Stockpiling 51 Strikes (see industrial conflicts) Subsidies . 37 Reserve requirements for banks ... 145 Roosevelt. inflation...INDEX (continued) stability 61-63 Price mechanism . military 51 Productivity .•.. ..77..•...•.. Jacques 83 Samuelson..•.urity ..137-40 Schlesinger.39-41.. 96...41-42...88. 28-29.48 .•. President F....134 Spirals. Risk-bearing and profits 65 Roepke. 51.. George (London) ...41... Professor Jacob 37 ..7. 141 Rationality... 34.51. Professor Walter E.•.51.•. 58 Recessions .85 Sweden .. 117 Price supports 51 Procurement.. 22 economic effects of 100-3 inflation and . W 145 Speculators .. Professor 145 David McCord Yamey.. H 82 Smith.55. J..80-81.52-55. Professor Lester Viner. 106.... 41..• ~ .66-67 Profit inflation 7-8... Professor Paul A.•.126 Public debt burden of 98-109.••..95-96........... 23-25 Unemployment technological Union shop United Automobile Workers Velie..95...and Bauer. 100 "roll over" of 105 "wealth creation" by ...•. 20-22 Reynaud... 110-12 ceiling over ..... 98-99 Radcliffe Report . justification of .