A version of this post appeared on Pieria in December 2013.
In my post “The desert of plenty”, I described a world in which goods and services are so cheap to
produce that less and less capital is required for investment , and so easy to
produce that less and less labour is required to produce them. Prices therefore
go into freefall and there is a glut of both capital and labour. This is
There are two kinds of deflation. There is the “bad” kind,
where asset prices go into a tailspin and banks and businesses fail in droves,
bankrupting households and governments and resulting in massive unemployment,
poverty and social collapse. America experienced this in the Great
Depression and narrowly avoided it in the Great Recession. More recently, at least one European country has felt the effects of this catastrophe.
But there is also another kind. This is where falling costs
and increasing efficiency of production create a glut of consumer goods and
services. In other words, supp…
Last night, the Resolution Foundation hosted a debate to launch my book, "The Case for People's Quantitative Easing". A great panel consisting of Jagjit Chadha, Director of NIESR; Fran Boait, Executive Director of Positive Money; and James Smith, Research Director of the Resolution Foundation, debated my ideas with immense verve, ably moderated by Torsten Bell, Chief Executive of the Resolution Foundation. You can watch the debate here.
In 2008, QE did a great job of supporting asset prices and preventing the disastrous deflationary spiral of the 1930s. But since then, enormous quantities of asset purchases by central banks around the world have proved unable to raise aggregate demand and kickstart growth.
Although central banks didn't do a bad job in the last recession, many of the tools they used won't work in the next one, not least because the legacy of the tools themselves has not yet dissipated. Interest rates are on the floor, central bank balance sheets …
The world is saving like crazy. Corporations are building up cash mountains that they can’t or won’t invest in expanding their businesses. Individuals are building up pensions and precautionary savings. Governments, especially in developing countries, are building up FX reserves. The “savings glut,” as former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke dubbed it, shows no signs of dissipating. It is sloshing around the world looking for a productive home. But there isn’t one - or at least, not one that offers the safety that fearful investors desperately crave. That, fundamentally, is what is driving down the returns on assets.
It is also the primary cause of the wide US trade deficit. The President likes to think that the reason for the US’s persistent trade deficits is unfair trade practices and currency manipulation. And for some countries, these are undoubtedly contributing factors. But the biggest reason by far is the global dominance of the dollar, and above all, the pre-eminence of dollar-deno…