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4. The Emergency Argument in Favour of Inflation
All the economic arguments in favor of inflation are untenable. The fallacies have long since been exploded in an irrefutable way.
There is, however, a political argument in favor of inflation that requires special analysis. This political argument is only rarely resorted to in books, articles, and political speeches. It does not lend itself to such public treatment. But the underlying idea plays an important role in the thinking of statesmen and historians.
Its supporters fully accept all the teachings of the sound-money doctrine. They do not share the errors of the inflationist quacks. They realize that inflationism is a self-defeating policy which must inevitably lead to an economic cataclysm and that all its allegedly beneficial effects are, even from the point of view of the authors of the inflationary policy, more undesirable than the evils which were to be cured by inflation. In full awareness of all this, however, they still believe that there are emergencies which peremptorily require or at least justify recourse to inflation. A nation, they say, can be menaced by evils which are incomparably more disastrous than the effects of inflation. If it is possible to avoid the total annihilation of a nation's freedom and culture by a temporary abandonment of sound money, no reasonable objection can be raised against such a procedure. It would simply mean preferring a smaller evil to a greater one.
In order to appraise correctly the weight of this emergency argument in favor of inflation, there is need to realize that inflation does not add anything to a nation's power of resistance, either to its material resources or to its spiritual and moral strength. Whether there is inflation or not, the material equipment required by the armed forces must be provided out of the available means by restricting consumption for nonvital purposes, by intensifying production in order to increase output, and by consuming a part of the capital previously accumulated. All these things can be done if the majority of citizens are firmly resolved to offer resistance to the best of their abilities and are prepared to make such sacrifices for the sake of preserving their independence and culture. Then the legislature will adopt fiscal methods which warrant the achievement of these goals. They will attain what is called economic mobilization or a defense economy without tampering with the monetary system. The great emergency can be dealt with without recourse to inflation.
But the situation those advocating emergency inflation have in mind is of a quite different character. Its characteristic feature is an irreconcilable antagonism between the opinions of the government and those of the majority of the people. The government, in this regard supported by only a minority of the people, believes that there exists an emergency that necessitates a considerable increase in public expenditure and a corresponding austerity in private households. But the majority of the people disagree. They do not believe that conditions are so bad as the government depicts them or they think that the preservation of the values endangered is not worth the sacrifices they would have to make. There is no need to raise the question whether the government's or the majority's opinion is right. Perhaps the government is right. However, we deal not with the substance of the conflict but with the methods chosen by the rulers for its solution. They reject the democratic way of persuading the majority. They arrogate to themselves the power and the moral right to circumvent the will of the people. They are eager to win its cooperation by deceiving the public about the costs involved in the measures suggested. While seemingly complying with the constitutional procedures of representative government, their conduct is in effect not that of elected officeholders but that of guardians of the people. The elected executive no longer deems himself the people's mandatory; he turns into a führer.
The emergency that brings about inflation is this: the people or the majority of the people are not prepared to defray the costs incurred by their rulers' policies. They support these policies only to the extent that they believe their conduct does not burden themselves. They vote, for instance, only for such taxes as are to be paid by other people, namely, the rich, because they think that these taxes do not impair their own material well-being. The reaction of the government to this attitude of the nation is, at least sometimes, directed by the sincere wish to serve what it believes to be the true interests of the people in the best possible way. But if the government resorts for this purpose to inflation, it is employing methods which are contrary to the principles of representative government, although formally it may have fully complied with the letter of the constitution. It is taking advantage of the masses' ignorance, it is cheating the voters instead of trying to convince them.
It is not just an accident that in our age inflation has become the accepted method of monetary management. Inflation is the fiscal complement of statism and arbitrary government. It is a cog in the complex of policies and institutions which gradually lead toward totalitarianism.
Western liberty cannot hold its ground against the onslaughts of Oriental slavery if the peoples do not realize what is at stake and are not ready to make the greatest sacrifices for the ideals of their civilization. Recourse to inflation may provide the government with the funds which it could neither collect by taxation nor borrow from the savings of the public because the people and its parliamentary representatives objected. Spending the newly created fiat money, the government can buy the equipment the armed forces need. But a nation reluctant to make the material sacrifices necessary for victory will never display the requisite mental energy. What warrants success in a fight for freedom and civilization is not merely material equipment but first of all the spirit that animates those handling the weapons. This heroic spirit cannot be bought by inflation.