How Today’s Central Bankers Threaten Civilization

How Today’s Central Bankers Threaten Civilization by  for Mises

When I was asked to write an article about the impact of negative interest rates and negative yielding bonds, I thought it was a chance to look at the topic from a broader perspective. There have been lots of articles speculating about the possible implications and focusing on their impact in the short run, but it’s not very often that an analysis looks a bit further into the future, trying to connect money and its effect on society itself.

Qui Bono?

Let us begin with a basic question, that lies at the heart of this issue: Who profits from a loan that is guaranteed to pay back less than the amount borrowed? Obviously, it is the borrower and not the lender, which in our case is the government and those closely connected to it. Negative rates and negative-yielding bonds by definition favor the debtors and punish the savers. In addition, these policies are an affront to basic economic principles and to common sense too. They contradict all logical ideas about how money works and they have no basis and no precedent in any organic economic system. Thus, now, in addition to the hidden tax that is inflation, we also have another mechanism that redistributes wealth from the average citizen to those at the top of the pyramid.

Thus, this very concept of a central authority being able to bend and twist the rules, even when the result is illogical, has implications that extend way beyond daily economic activities. In fact, it ultimately divides society into two classes, those who profit from this arbitrary and unilateral rewriting of the rules and those who are forced to pay the price even though they never agreed to it. In fact, they weren’t even asked.

A System of Collective Corruption

Of course, we can also look at it from the collective perspective of the so-called social contract of Rousseau and argue that this system of overt (taxation) and covert (monetary policy) redistribution is legitimate, or even benign. You might still believe that the state will take care of you in the future, and thus you are willing to sacrifice a part of your wealth and savings today to make sure that happens. In that case, it is useful to remember that the current central banking system is not that old. It’s only been around for about hundred years, or two long-term debt cycles combined. The first cycle ended when President Nixon officially tried to demonetize gold in 1971, empowering a centralized system whereby a few decide who receives the currency first and at what interest rate, allowing them to create bubbles in certain asset classes, protect different key industries and to use it to finance wars and enrich politicians and those close to them.

So far, total credit on a global scale stands around $240 trillion. It’s hard to conceive of such a number, but if you consider that 1 trillion seconds are equal to 31,709 years, you might begin to wrap your head around just how leveraged the system has become. We should never forget that debt is always consumption brought forward. That being said, debts need to be paid back or forgiven — there is no other outcome. In addition, the amount of debt that a system can take on is limited, and when a credit-based system can’t grow any further, the logical outcome is the collapse of the whole system. As Ludwig von Mises described this a long time ago,

There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.

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