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Easy-Money Policies Don't Solve the Problem of Idle Resources


It is widely believed that resources that are utilized in normal times to promote economic prosperity become underutilized during recessions. Some experts hold that what is required are policies which will increase the availability of credit. On this Ludwig von Mises wrote in Human Action,

Here, they say, are plants and farms whose capacity to produce is either not used at all or not to its full extent. Here are piles of unsalable commodities and hosts of unemployed workers. But here are also masses of people who would be lucky if they only could satisfy their wants more amply. All that is lacking is credit. Additional credit would enable the entrepreneurs to resume or to expand production. The unemployed would find jobs again and could buy the products. This reasoning seems plausible. Nonetheless it is utterly wrong.

It makes sense to suggest that what is lacking to absorb idle resources is the scarcity of credit. One should however emphasize that the credit that is lacking is productive credit. Briefly, productive credit emerges when a wealth generator lends some of his real wealth to another wealth generator. By giving up the use of the loaned real wealth at present, the lender is compensated in terms of interest that the borrower agrees to pay.

As a rule, the greater the expansion in real wealth, the lower the interest rate that the lender is likely to agree to accept (i.e., his time preference is likely to decline).

Observe that the interest rate is just an indicator, as it were — it is not responsible for the expansion in real wealth. Any policy that tampers with interest rates makes it much harder for wealth generators to assess the true state of the productive credit. This in turn leads to the misallocation of productive credit and to the weakening in the wealth generation process.

As a result of distorted interest rates, an overproduction of some goods and the under production of other goods emerges.

Loose Monetary Policy Appears To Work Because of the Expanding Pool of Real Wealth

As long as the pool of real wealth is expanding, easy monetary policy will appear to “work.” Once, however, the pool becomes stagnant or starts declining, the “music stops” and no amount of central bank monetary pumping is going to “work.”

On the contrary, the more aggressive the central bank’s stance is in attempting to revive the economy the worse things are likely to get. The reason being because easy monetary policy strengthens the exchange of nothing for something thereby weakening the process of real wealth generation — the heart of economic growth.

One could argue that, irrespective of the reasons for the emergence of idle resources, the role of the central bank is to pursue policies that will make it possible for a greater use of these resources.

Loose monetary policy cannot replace real savings that are required to employ idle resources. Note that the central bank is not a real wealth generator, and hence does not have real savings to support real economic growth. (GDP growth has nothing to do with a genuine economic growth. Individuals in the various stages of production require goods and services to maintain their life and wellbeing, not pieces of paper we label as money).

Idle Resources Emerge from the Previous Boom

What those commentators who advocate easy monetary policies to absorb idle resources have overlooked is that as a rule, idle resources emerge on account of boom-bust policies of the central bank. As a result of the previous easy monetary stance, various non-productive or “bubble” activities have emerged. These activities depend on easy monetary policy for their existence, which diverts real wealth to them from wealth generators.Once the the bust takes hold, bubbles burst and more resources become idle.

There is only one sustainable solution to this. People would have to cut back on consumption and production which were not truly wealth-generating but were bubbles created out of easy-money policies.  It is quite possible that certain types of consumption and production would have to be abolished all together. This also implies that individuals that are employed in activities that generate products which are on the lowest priority list of consumers would have to adjust their conduct. This could be done by accepting lower salaries or by trying to be employed in activities that generate products, which are on the highest priority list of consumers. For this, they would have to alter their skills.

In the meantime, there will be many idle resources.

According to Mises,

Out of the collapse of the boom there is only one way back to a state of affairs in which progressive accumulation of capital safeguards a steady improvement of material well-being: new saving must accumulate the capital goods needed for a harmonious equipment of all branches of production with the capital required. One must provide the capital goods lacking in those branches which were unduly neglected in the boom. Wage rates must drop; people must restrict their consumption temporarily until the capital wasted by malinvestment is restored. Those who dislike these hardships of the readjustment period must abstain in time from credit expansion.

Furthermore says Mises,

If commodities cannot be sold and workers cannot find jobs, the reason can only be that the prices and wages asked are too high. He who wants to sell his inventories or his capacity to work must reduce his demand until he finds a buyer. Such is the law of the market. Such is the device by means of which the market directs every individual's activities into those lines in which they can best contribute to the satisfaction of the wants of the consumers.

Obviously, printing more money cannot fix the issue of idle resources. What is required is time to re-build the pool of real wealth, which was damaged by the previous easy monetary policies of the central bank. The reinvigorated pool of real wealth will make it possible to strengthen the pool of real savings, which in turn will make it possible to employ various idle resources.

The most important decision that authorities could make is to acknowledge the damage that the printing presses have caused and remove themselves from managing the so-called economy.


Contact Frank Shostak

Frank Shostak's consulting firm, Applied Austrian School Economics, provides in-depth assessments of financial markets and global economies. Contact: email.

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