Michael Perleman's Thanksgiving Rant
Cute piece, especially for a rant. From his Unsettling Economics site
Matter and Antimatter: How to Create a Crisis: A Thanksgiving Rant
Posted November 27, 2008
Filed under: economics
Skilled physicists do not know how to take nothing and turn it into matter and antimatter, but finance behaves as if it had the capacity to do something similar. Imagine a simple market economy about to create a bubble. I want to tell the story of this bubble, only to put the current, crazy stimulus package into perspective.
Somebody says to me they have a piece of paper worth $1 million. I can buy for half the price. I borrow the money to cover most of the cost. People are willing to lend me the money confident in the belief that my paper will increase in value. Other people are engaging in the same transaction, spreading confidence that these papers are now increasing in value, say to $600,000.
The seller of the paper now has a half-million dollars, having given up nothing but blank piece of paper. I have a capital gain of hundred thousand dollars. My lenders have a credit with a half-million dollars. We are all better off, even though nothing has been produced.
Feeling secure in the increasing value of our paper, I along with the other “investors” now start consuming more, spreading prosperity for the economy. Virtually everybody is enjoying the benefit of the bubble. Within a short period of time, people throughout the economy making decisions based on the increasing appearance of health and the economy.
At some point, people realize that this paper is nothing more than a blank sheet of writing paper. The bubble may have stimulated some investment that is capable of producing real economic benefits, but mostly it has induced people to consume and commit themselves to pay back debts.
Remember, this prosperity was built out of nothing. In the end, matter and antimatter collided. The lenders have lost their money. The speculators and consumers are in debt. Most lack the wherewithal to repay their debts. But in the case of the current bubble, the economy does not have the productive capacity to put everything together. The loans came from abroad and so did many consumer goods.
At the same time, the government loans are ultimately dependent on another set of loans, also largely from abroad. How will these loans ever be repaid? Will new loans keep coming as the bubble engulfs the rest of the world?
Should the government come in and give me a half-million dollars so that I can repay my loan? Should I be rewarded for my stupidity and naivete? Will that policy really make the economy healthy? Or will it policy just facilitate the creation of even greater bubbles?
Obviously, the most sensible decision would be to put the money into making a more healthy economy, one less susceptible to speculation–something impossible under capitalism, but that is another question. Eventually, somebody will have to pay the piper. The policy today seems to be an effort to shield the very people who created the crisis, placing the burden on the most innocent.
The graphic picture of the stimulus package that I posted yesterday suggests a government response just as foolish as the speculations that set off the bubble in the first place.