Friday, September 21, 2012

On Quantitative easing and the perils that lie within

In this world, what isn't lacking, somewhere, though?
Sometimes it's this, or that: here what's missing's gold.
- Goethe, Faust, Part II, translated by A.S. Kline

Paul Krugman, in his New York Times column of August 24, "Galt, Gold and God," rails against an interest in the gold standard, which he attributes to Paul Ryan. Krugman lambastes Ryan, ironically enough, for an observation the latter made paraphrasing Keynes: "'There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens,' he intoned, 'than debase its currency.'"

Rather than alluding to Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, however, Krugman would do well to dig into a classic: Goethe's Faust, Part II. Scott Minerd, chief investment officer at Guggenheim, writing in the Financial Times recently, brilliantly called contemporary monetary policy "the ultimate Faustian bargain."

Paper money comes straight from Mephistopheles. The History of Money by Jack Weatherford recounts the story.
Faust and Mephistopheles visit the court of the emperor during the pre-Lentin carnival season of masquerades and tricks. The emperor is besieged by his treasurer and stewards reporting the lack of funds and the need to pay the wages of the soldiers and servants. His moneylenders demand payment on debts, and even the wine bill has come due.
Mephistopheles offers the emperor a way out of his financial mess. He has found the key to making gold, the secret that all alchemists had sought for centuries. He obtains from the emperor permission to print paper money-"the heaven-sent leaf."
Faust comes to the emperor's carnival ball dressed appropriately as Plutus, the god of wealth, and through magic, he and Mephistopheles show the emperor the riches he can have by printing money. ... He has based the value of his money on the future mining of gold, the untapped treasures still buried in the earth. ... The new money has been unleashed to the great joy of creditors, debtors, soldiers, and other citizens. Already people are ordering new clothes, and business booms for the butcher and baker. Wine is flowing freely in the taverns, and even the dice roll more easily. Priests and prostitutes scurry about their business with greater enthusiasm because of the new money, and even the moneylenders are enjoying a brisk new business.

At first, the spread of Faust's new money brings happiness and improvement, but soon the hidden costs begin bubbling to the surface. ... Soon social unrest in the newly enriched nation leads to rebellion, and a new anti-emperor rises to challenge the old one.

The perversity? Monetary shenanigans represent a short-term fix but the long-term cause of economic, social, and political woe. Thus do Neo-Keynesian economists such as Krugman enlist in the Devil's Party. "Easy money" advocates propound QEs and Twists and other weird devices to generate a brief relief for the economy. They ignore the seeds of destruction thereby sown.

Borrowed shamelessly from here and here

No comments: