A “Deer In The Headlights” Policy Freeze?

The agreement reached to raise the US government debt ceiling may mark the beginning of the kind of “deer in the headlights” policy freeze described in the last chapter of The Dollar Crisis. If that agreement is fully implemented, this depression is going to become considerably worse. The excerpts below are taken from The Dollar Crisis, Chapter 20: Bernankeism. They were written in December 2004.

It is almost certain that policymakers will respond to the approaching crisis by applying the two great economic policy tools of the last century: Keynesianism and Monetarism. The abuse of those tools will prolong and exacerbate the death throes of the Dollar Standard.

The first recourse will be to employ more fiscal stimulus. With prices falling and in light of the extraordinary amount of paper money that has been created in recent years, interest rates will be very low and there will be little difficulty in paying interest on a much larger amount of government debt. It would not be surprising to see the US budget deficit surpass $1 trillion by 2007 or 2008 if the US current account deficit has come down significantly by that time.

If, at that point, the US current account deficit has been reduced, foreign central banks would not have a sufficient inflow of dollars to finance such a large deterioration in the US budget deficit, even assuming that Fannie and Freddie have ceased issuing any new, competing, debt of their own.

The Fed, however, as Governor Bernanke explained, has already put considerable thought into how to deal with such a contingency and stands ready, in Bernanke’s opinion, to support “a broad-based tax cut” through “a program of open-market purchases to alleviate any tendency for interest rates to rise”.

How long could such “cooperation between the monetary and fiscal authorities” underpin the global economy? For quite a number of years most probably. Economic trends play themselves out over very long periods of time. Moreover, US policymakers will use every last tool at their disposal to prevent, or, at least, delay a global depression. An economic system underpinned by large-scale fiscal stimulus financed by central bank monetization of government debt could hardly be described as capitalism (perhaps the term Bernankeism would be appropriate) but, with any luck, it could stave off disaster for a considerable length of time.

Nevertheless, despite the best efforts of policymakers to keep the Dollar Standard alive and to stave off the depression that would most probably follow its collapse, ultimately, one of the following scenarios is likely to overwhelm even Bernankeism.

1. A protectionist backlash against free trade, resulting in a trade war similar to that which occurred during the Great Depression.

2. A US asset price bubble (as interest rates fall toward zero), that drives property prices so high that they can’t be financed even at very low interest rates. This is similar to what occurred in Japan at the end of the 1980s.

3. A meltdown of the under-regulated $200 trillion derivatives market. $200 trillion is roughly six times global GDP.

4. The loss of nerve on the part of policy makers that deters them from undertaking ever more unorthodox economic policies, resulting in a “deer in the headlights” kind of policy freeze.

5. A decline in interest rates to 0% or very near 0% as in Japan at present.

Any one of the first four scenarios could undermine the Dollar Standard, but the final scenario, where interest rates fall very near 0%, would certainly deal it a fatal blow. From that point, the only option left to stimulate aggregate demand would be to drop paper money from helicopters. That too would fail, however, for who would accept paper dropped from helicopters in exchange for real goods and services? Hyperinflation would quickly set in. Economic transactions would then be conducted through barter rather than via the medium of a debased script. Eventually, a gold standard would re-emerge.

Exactly how these events will unfold is impossible to forecast; nevertheless, the eventual outcome is within sight. The Dollar Standard is inherently flawed and increasingly unstable. Its demise is imminent. The only question is will it be death by fire—hyperinflation—or death by ice—deflation? Fortunes will be made and lost depending on the answer to that question.

6 comments

  1. I had read Mr. Duncan’s Book “The Dollar Crisis” in 2004 and re-read after the ’08 collapse with spine tingling detail as to the predictions vivid nature of what actually transpired before our eyes. Three cheers to Mr. Duncan, the modern day Paul Revere, whom few politicians seem to have an open ear to. It is tragic to know the future and not be able to do anything to stop it. Mr. Duncan’s more recent work, “The Corruption of Capitalism” gave the road map for any dope in Washington to read from. I guess they don’t have time to read anymore way up at the top (except from teleprompters) and so we are all doomed to repeat the sins and ultimate failure of all Fiat currency endeavors.

  2. “The only question is will it be death by fire—hyperinflation—or death by ice—deflation? Fortunes will be made and lost depending on the answer to that question.”

    Has deflation ever happened for an extended period of time in a fiat money environment? Even in Japan, the average annual inflation rate has been 3% for the past 40 years. In other countries inflation ran out of control. And it is easier (relatively) to get rid of the debt/paper asset burden in a quick hyperinflation than in a long and prolonged deflation with bankruptcies along the way.

    However, just to put our mind at rest, we could allocate 50% of our assets in gold, and the other 50% in cash/bonds. And then we can go fishing or buy some popcorn and beer and watch the events unfold…

    In 2009 Mr. Duncan wrote that the US would likely to have 5-10 years to implement a solution. With all these new developments (debt ceiling debate, S&P downgrade, China credit bubble bursting, PIIGS defaults, etc.), has this timeframe got shortened?

  3. I first read your book in 2005, and then reread it again shortly thereafter. It’s amazing just how well you described the nature of the crisis then and how percent your words turned out to be.

  4. So what do you recommend? Do you have books that tell us what to do?
    I realize it could go either way deflation/inflation… What should we do so we could survive and maybe even prosper in a scenario like that? Some folks if they know what to do will get rich… I don’t know what to do. I’m a teacher and and have 2 small bussiness in order to have investment money.
    HELP!

  5. I am very glad to see that Richard Duncan has this blog. I read the books with fascination.

    I would be interested to see an analysis of the impact of demographic trends regarding the fire/ice question above. Does the passing of the baby boom generation mean increased saving rate (paying down debt), and does this mean deflation?

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