The Theory of Interest and Prices
What do a famous broken bridge and Jimi Hendrix have in common with monetary effects on consumer prices? Short answer: a dynamic system & positive feedback.
CEO Keith Weiner recently presented at the Austrian Economics Research Conference 2021, discussing his upcoming paper, The Theory of Interest and Prices.
In the video below, he discusses:
- The fundamental confusion between monetary & non-monetary effects on consumer prices
- Why the interest rate is the most important price in our economy
- The pathological, alternating cycle of prices, interest rate, and borrowing throughout the last 74 years
I disagree with the suggestion that interest rate is below time preference. It is rather the opposite. And that is the cause of much of the financial mayhem. As interest rates can’t go meaningfully below zero, there is a global savings glut. Real price discovery (the actual market interest rate) can only emerge when holding currency is unattractive, for instance by applying a holding fee in the way Silvio Gesell proposed. That is because the equilibrium can be at a negative interest rate.
And you can’t have a free market if there is price control in the form of a minimum interest rate of zero. This price control hampers the proper functioning of financial markets so we have central banks and Keynesian ‘solutions’. Markets can never really be free.
The problem with time preference is that it only works for ordinary people. There are other people too. They are called capitalists. Economists have diagnosed them with a condition called capitalist spirit. Capitalists think that money spent on a frivolous item is money wasted. That is because if you invest your money, you will end up with more money that you can invest again. Capitalists don’t suffer from time preference. They save and invest anyway.
And in the end, because of this peculiar condition called capitalist spirit, the capitalists own most capital, and end up dominating financial markets (they call it wealth inequality). And because capitalists can’t help themselves (capitalist spirit, so they save and invest anyway) they are willing to lend at negative interest rates. If the equilibrium interest rates are below zero growth is demand constrained (there is a capital surplus). It is, for instance, reflected in all the cheap useless crap you can buy at Wallmart.
And it is interest on money and debts that is at the basis of monetary inflation. In the past when borrowers couldn’t pay their debts with interest they became the serfs of money lenders. That’s why usury was often forbidden. Usury was the road to serfdom. Most people have forgotten about that. Nowadays most money is debt. Money is loaned into existence and must be repaid with interest. But if the interest rate is 5% and there is € 100 in existence then € 105 must be returned. So where does the extra € 5 come from?
There are a few options:
– Lenders (on aggregate) spend some of their balance so borrowers (on aggregate) can pay the interest from existing money.
– Some borrowers default and (part of) the balance is not returned.
– Borrowers (on aggregate) borrow the extra € 5.
– The government borrows the extra € 5.
– The central bank creates the € 5 out of thin air to cope with the shortfall.
All these things happen and often at the same time. In theory the first two options suffice but in reality they do not. Lenders on aggregate let their capital grow at interest. A few defaults are acceptable but too many defaults can cascade into a financial crisis and cause an economic crisis. The cost of letting the financial system fail is so big that this is not an option. And if no-one else is borrowing the government has to step in. In this way debts continue to grow.
Usury is still the road to serfdom. If you don’t fix this problem you fix nothing. With a gold standard, interest rates must always be positive, and if the equilibrium is negative, it would mean economic trouble.
“Capitalists don’t suffer from time preference.”
Only to be outdone by “usury is still the road to surfdom”, a sick reference to the book. And to think I wasted 6 yrs of my life studying under this convoluted thinking.
Usury… as if saving is easy and has no merit. Sure, let fiat reign supreme as it has in other countries… right before their demise.
I would love to find the “capitalist” who will lend money at negative rates in order to make profits. I don’t understand the math for your argument. I the “capitalist” want to make money so I pay you(negative interest means you get paid to borrow) money today and you pay me less tomorrow. Please explain how this works? Any “capitalist” operating on this proposition with soon not have any capital. Please explain, because I don’t understand your argument.
You lost pretty much everyone here with the oft debunked “savings glut”. Your comment is like going into a time machine and going back to 2008. That comment was made by shills to fool the gullible and justify theft from savers and the poor to benefit the rich.
I’d ask you why intervention is ALWAYS pushing the rate down? Clearly the rate of preference from free actors is higher. As for savings – please do tell how Americans are saving anything at any level? We are so far in debt both on balance sheet and promised through government programs that we can never climb out. If an individual couldn’t climb out no GROUP of individuals can either. This includes corporations as well. Aggregate debt is now so high that as Keith points out on more and greater intervention will keep things going until ultimately control is lost and the bridge crashes into the gorge.
Well said… and when now trillions are created Ex Nihil we are almost there.
I wonder if the two people who commented here actually watched the presentation in its entirety?
Thanks Keith – look forward to reading more on that.
I wonder if there’s any way that you can add your financial insights to the arguments made by Gail Tverberg (in particular) on energy cost of energy and her deflation perspective? It seems to me that the financing that enabled the fracking-boom (a last gasp in my opinion) made no sense other than ‘buying time’. The bottom-falling-out as a result of insufficient income to support higher oil-and-gas prices (Gail thinks $120 a barrel oil is what they really need to continue) speaks to bond-defaults and deflation. The ‘Olduvai Gorge – Seneca Cliff’ of the Peak Oil crowd reminds me of your 476 AD comments. Gail articulates a more nuanced-view that is wage-based with falling-prices and lack of demand, compared to many others in the Peak Oil community.
My thinking is that the finance of energy-usage accelerated after the gold-bond/gold-money era and our loss of the ability to extinguish debt, and because of that broken-link we have been enabled to squander fossil-fuels to an extent that may not have occurred otherwise. Falling interest facilitated the misdirection/misallocation resulting in a profound orgy of capital-consumption. The wasting of fossil-fuel derived energy enabled all of those add-ons, overheads, taxes, regulations, etc. that you point out. An old friend who would be 120 years old if he was still around once showed me how 50% of a new car was the summation of taxes paid at every level of input-processes and transport. Cheap oil made that taxation possible. Investment today in non-renewable ‘renewable’ solar-and-wind technologies is a good example of fossil-fuels being transformed into non-economic physical-goods as a result of high-finance disregarding thermodynamic realities.
There’s a time-preference aspect to this form of wasting energy that I’m curious about. That could be seen as a kind of stop-gap transition interval; a time-preference for the existing-order as it were; one that keeps certain industrial-processes humming along, simultaneously incurring the expense of the entropic-effects, which are somehow discounted for perceived present-benefit. And there’s the question if the trade-off, the discount-of-entropy, is even recognized for what it is in the world of politics and finance, outside of the symptoms of bankruptcies and general malaise? That’s kind of vague I know and it also kind of assumes that the system is operating intelligently and hasn’t gone off the deep-end. How much of our fate is baked-in-the-cake inertia that obviates anything other than industrial-triage? Creating the infrastructure for both fracking and non-renewable renewables consumed how much capital? And where is that capital no longer available in real terms? It seems like the symptoms are all around us.
After reading Antal Fekete back in the day and listening to and reading your work over the recent past, I’ve concluded that a return to gold-bond finance would help considerably to putting the brakes on; especially regarding poor decision-making and that it could possibly guide our economic-slide to something more like a relatively high-tech 1800’s on average than something worse. There seem to be conceptual parallels between the deflation-potential we’re facing in the physical-world and the financial side of thermodynamic reality. It seems like they’re exacerbating each other. Rick Ackerman speaks to the logical impossibility to rescue-the-debt once defaults really begin to ramp-up and domino. He had his two-week fling with FOFOA and knows that the FreeGold mantra of “hyperinflation will fix that” is cultish at best. The black-holes of infrastructure decline, commercial real-estate vacancy, unfunded government pensions, zombie companies, massive soil-erosion etc., will be sucking-in available-dollars like there’s no tomorrow for a long time to come. Finance and the thermodynamic interpretation of physical-economy are intimately intertwined but don’t seem to be in direct communication. Tim Morgan is working on his SEEDS model and that might help quantify things.
It would be really interesting to hear you and Gail share your thoughts on a podcast someday.
As I understand it from your interest-rate podcast in January 2021 you see an endgame of capital-depletion and skyrocketing-prices due to shortages of things, but that’s years further out from here. So, I assume you think this recent blip-up in the 10-year Treasury is temporary and the falling-interest trend will re-assert itself? I’m trying to compare or reconcile ideas of capital-depletion with fossil-fuel depletion and the rising true-cost of energy in energy terms. This recent problem of a ship blocking the Suez Canal is bringing the black-swan aspect of energy availability into view. It is curious that the 10-year rate may have anticipated some short-term risk.
All excellent points, thank you. But the shortages will start a lot sooner than years from now, not only in reality but b/c markets anticipate future events. We’re seeing it start already. Note for example the rise in ag products priced in futures.
There is nothing “future” about the future crisis.