19 May 2009

Richard Duncan’s The Dollar Crisis

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Tim Swanson sent me this review of what appears to be a very insightful (or “inciteful” as the person at the link humorously misspelled it) book. Some excerpts:

Japan’s total reserves minus gold rose from around $5bn in 1970 to $100bn in 1989. Its money supply (including M2 and CDs) grew from 50 trillion yen to 450 trillion yen by 1989. Without the gold standard, Japan’s trade surplus persisted, leading to massive reserve buildups and huge credit creation. All this newfound credit had to find a home, and it went into the Japanese stock market and property markets. The Japanese stock market went up by more than 12 times from 1970 to 1989, with the Nikkei index trading at more than 60x PE before it crashed (today, it’s under 10x PE). Domestic credit as % of GDP went from 140% to more than 250%. Ultimately, incomes could not rise fast enough to catch up with the tremendous asset inflation that was occurring. In 1989, the Japanese stock market and property bubbles popped as debtors couldn’t pay their creditors; the Japanese banking system became flush with bad loans; and a painfully long recession ensued.

During World War I, governments dropped the gold standard in order to print enough money to finance the wars. The result: huge trade imbalances resulted, leading to credit creation in the US. Specifically, the United States was the producing the goods that the Allies were using to fight the war. US gold reserves rose 64% from 1914 to 1917 as Europe exchanged its gold for American goods. The US also began accepting government debt from the Europeans. The Europeans had to drop the gold standard, because Europe couldn’t afford to suffer the recession and credit contraction that would result from their fast-depleting gold reserves. In the US, the increase in reserves led to a doubling of the credit base from 1914 to 1920, which led to a boom in industrial production. When the real economy was no longer able to profitably invest the available liquidity in new plant and equipment due to overcapacity and falling prices, increasing amounts of money were shifted into the stock market. Ultimately, the bubble popped, share prices plunged, credit contracted and a banking crisis developed. Duncan’s thesis: it wasn’t infectious greed that caused the Roaring 20s and subsequent Great Depression. It was excessive credit creation that resulted from trade balances during and after World War I, which in turn resulted from the gold standard being temporarily dropped during World War I.

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