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Credit Bubble Bust

Not if central bankers can help it, that is...
 
YOU WILL recall that the credit bubble must continue to expand, writes Bill Bonner in his Diary of a Rogue Economist. Or else all Hell will break loose.
 
Civilization probably won't be able to survive a real credit deflation, economist and author Richard Duncan believes. With visions of chaos, depression and war in his head, he advocates policies that give the bubble more air.
 
We live in a credit-driven economy. The money supply relies on banks creating new credit. Credit must expand...or the economy shrinks. It can't stand still because the current level of jobs and incomes depends on additional debt.
 
Last year, for example, through its QE program the Fed created $1 trillion of new bank deposits (offsetting them with $1 trillion in new bank reserves). And the economy grew just 1.9% – or by only about $320 billion. Think what would have happened without this boost!
 
But for credit to really expand without the help of QE, banks must find willing and able borrowers. And who will those willing and able borrowers be?
 
Not consumers. They don't have the disposable incomes to support much additional borrowing.
 
And not corporations. Their earnings are beginning to turn down, too. The days of borrowing money in order to goose up their own stocks (and, not coincidentally, get management bigger bonuses) must be nearing an end.
 
Who does that leave? Government. Government is the only large entity with the ability (in theory at least) to borrow an infinite amount of money. Because it doesn't have to worry about paying it back. It's the only institution with the legal right to counterfeit its own money...and use this cash to pay its own debts.
 
What a sweet deal!
 
Duncan reckons that the US can, will and should follow the example given it by the Japanese. Although the US has debt equal to about 100% of GDP, Japan's government debt is about 240% of GDP. By that measure the US could borrow another $17 trillion – enough to keep the credit bubble and the economy expanding for many years.
 
You see, dear reader, we live in a world of wonders. One of them is that we have an economy that now lives, and apparently thrives, on air.
 
Each year, households, government and corporations spend their revenues.... and then some. This extra spending would normally come from savings. Instead, it comes out of thin air – conjured up by the Fed and the banking system.
 
Now, imagine that the air were cut off. You can see what a disaster it would be. Everyone would be gasping for cash...for credit...for a last breath.
 
What's the solution? Keep the credit flowing!
 
That is what the Japanese did following their stock and property market crash in 1990. And it's what they've been doing ever since. They were faced with the same challenge – the household sector could no longer be persuaded to borrow...and the corporate sector could no longer afford to.
 
So, the government stepped in as the borrower and big spender of last resort...allowing the Japanese government to run up record amounts of debt relative to the size of its economy.
 
But wait...With the government borrowing and spending so freely, didn't prices go up? Didn't inflation discourage people from lending to the government?
 
Nope. Prices were stable or actually fell. For two reasons. Because everyone else was paying down debt and reluctant to spend at all. And because wage competition from nearby China was substantially lowering the cost of consumer items.
 
So, with no threat from consumer price inflation, the government just kept borrowing and spending. This has held the Japanese economy together for 24 years. Many economists look at the Japanese example as a success story.
 
But the final chapter on that story still hasn't been written. We will take a guess at how it turns out: badly.

Bill Bonner has co-authored a number of New York Times Bestsellers including Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Markets and Messiahs. In his own opinion, Bill's most recent title, A Modest Theory of Civilization: Win-Win or Lose, is his best work yet. Bill also founded The Agora, a worldwide community for private researchers and publishers, in 1979. Financial analysts within the group have exposed and predicted some of the world's biggest shifts since that time, starting with the fall of the Soviet Union back in the late 1980s, to the collapse of the Dot Com (2000) and then mortgage finance (2008) bubbles, and more recently the election of President Trump.

See full archive of Bill Bonner articles

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