How Zimbabwe’s Inflation Relates To Our Own

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We are having a running argument among ourselves as to what, if anything, Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation has in common with our own inflation.

Three of us say it’s relevant, one of us (the smart one – the professor in the group) says it’s bullfeathers.

I disagree with him. Here’s why I think it relates.

1) “Inflation is, always and everywhere, a monetary phenomenon” – Milton Friedman

Friedman may have invented the hated witholding tax, and been an enthusiastic enabler of autocratic and totalitarian governments (as well as obfuscating the real causes of the Great Depression), but he was right on the money here – inflation is caused by central banks’ creation of money out of nothing, for no better reason than to fund wars that the people oppose and generate profits for the banks by impoverishing everyone else. In our two cases at hand, Zimbabwe and the US, both country’s inflations are fundamentally creations of their respective central banks for the purpose of funding wars, Mugabe’s war against his own people (the productive class), and Bush’s Wars also against brown Muslim people as WELL as his own people.

2) “Thanks to a weakening dollar, companies in the United States are selling more goods and services overseas…But the biggest U.S. export right now isn’t tractors or ball bearings or computer consulting or anything else American industry does. Our biggest export is inflation.” Jim Jubak, MSN Money

Our financial structure isn’t just busy printing money, it is also judiciously packaging government debt into securities that it sells all around the world to eager buyers. In other words, trade in goods and securities with China, et al, gets a lot of the funny money out of circulation here and into China before the excess can bid up prices too overtly. Zimbabwe, while once a food exporter, now has no goods to export, thanks to Mugabe’s “Land Reform”, which consisted of little more than killing or deporting the most productive farmers, most of whom happened to be white. Those farms are idle now, and Zimbabwe has nothing to export except its bad paper, which no one wants.

So, why is this bad? Sooner or later, sellers of goods stop accepting inflated currencies at face value, because they realize that the unit has lost value. This is a major contributing cause of the Arab Oil Embargo in 1973. Even more than our support of Israel, the OPEC nations turned against our money (as evidenced by oil prices that stayed well above the pre-crisis price even after the embargo was removed), the debasement of which Nixon had previously accelerated. It’s why first Iraq and then Iran formulated plans to open oil bourses trading in euros instead of dollars. Particularly important is when foreigners stop purchasing US government paper, or start shedding our paper. This hurts the economy.

3) “Please China, Sell Your Treasury Notes” – Felix Salmon

Even worse is if those same foreign buyers of paper start selling in a panic. In this case, the flow of money out would stop, or even reverse, causing massive spikes in prices due to this reversal. Foreigners currently hold approximately $2.6 TRILLION of US-dollar-denominated debt. How much of this paper would these other countries have to shed to cause massive inflationary destruction in the economy? As bad as Zimbabwe is, everyone who ever held Zimbabwean paper has long ago cut his losses.

4) “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others” – Groucho Marx

Inflation is effectively a stealth tax levied on the poor, the middle class, and the elderly by the government for the benefit of the armaments manufacturers, banks, and oil companies. Any amount of inflation does this, which means any amount of inflation is evil. Some governments are simply more evil than others.

As bad as that is, inflating into the teeth of a big recession could spell disaster. The system is so overleveraged, any significant loss of confidence in the dollar would trigger an unstoppable wave of rebound inflation that the Fed would be simply overwhelmed, an inflation that would utterly destroy the US economy. I hope I’m wrong.


1 Response to “How Zimbabwe’s Inflation Relates To Our Own”

  1. August 11, 2008 at 8:53 am

    “Three of us say it’s relevant, one of us (the smart one – the professor in the group) says it’s bullfeathers.”

    I agree with the majority, see my post Zimbabwe’s Monetary Policy.

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