Ben Bernanke Killed The World Economy

It has also been noted in the United States that small business formation, a key driver of productivity growth, in 2010-2016 ran about a third below its historic levels, and half the levels of the late 1970s when figures were first compiled, even though the economy itself had moved towards recovery. This aligns with the theory postulated in the University of Chicago paper, that small businesses become discouraged by very low interest rates, and simply cease investing, or even cease being formed.

From Austrian economic principles, there is a clear explanation for the decline in productivity growth in low-interest-rate environments. Economies work best when interest rates are at or close to their natural level, that would be set in a free market. In a Gold Standard system with free banking, interest rates naturally stay close to that level. However, if as in modern economies governments have taken over the money creation and interest-rate-setting functions from the market and move rates a substantial distance from their natural level, then investment decisions become distorted and suboptimal. In such a situation, productivity growth will naturally decline; if the distortion of the interest rate curve is prolonged, productivity growth may even disappear as investments are made into entirely the wrong assets.

This is what happened worldwide after 2008 (arguably, in Japan from 1998 with a short remission in the mid-2000s). As the University of Chicago paper points out, ultra-low interest rates discouraged small businesses (that effect appears to have been especially strong in Japan, where almost no major new companies have emerged since 1990). However, there are other sources of distortion.

In the United States, vast sums have been poured by companies into buying back their stock, because the earnings cost of doing so is small at low interest rates and companies believe that if their cash flow is solid, they can survive ad infinitum without significant equity capital. They are wrong, but only the next recession will teach them so, at great cost to their employees and the U.S. economy as a whole (doubtless their foolish and greedy top management will emerge with substantial payoffs, as usual).

In London, San Francisco, New York and elsewhere, the prices of high-end real estate have soared without limit. Low interest rates reward those with borrowing capacity, and for more than 20 years now, it has been profitable for the rich to borrow gigantic amounts of money at low interest rates and invest it in high-end real estate. This bubble is now in the process of bursting, much to the benefit of Millennials, for whom the price of modest real estate has been over-elevated by the shenanigans at the high end.

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(The Bear's Lair is a weekly column that is intended to appear each Monday, an appropriately gloomy day of the week. Its rationale is that the proportion of "sell" recommendations put ...

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Gary Anderson 1 year ago Contributor's comment

#Trump's productivity growth is hardly normal. France has much larger productivity growth than the US. France! Trump is stuck in low productivity just like #Obama was.