Marginal Productivity of Debt

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  • Wed, Oct 05, 2011 - 07:21am



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    Marginal Productivity of Debt

 Please consider this paper:



Watching the wrong ratio 

The key to understanding the problem is the marginal productivity of debt, a concept curiously missing from the vocabulary of mainstream economics. Keynesians take comfort in the fact that total debt as a percentage of total GDP is safely below 100 in the United States while it is 100 and perhaps even more in some other countries. However, the significant ratio to watch is additional debt to additional GDP, or the amount of GDP contributed by the creation of $1 in new debt. It is this ratio that determines the quality of debt. Indeed, the higher the ratio, the more successful entrepreneurs are in increasing productivity, which is the only valid justification for going into debt in the first place. 

Conversely, a serious fall in that ratio is a danger sign that the quality of debt is deteriorating, and contracting additional debt has no economic justification. The volume of debt is rising faster than national income, and capital supporting production is eroding fast. If, as in the worst-case scenario, the ratio falls into negative territory, the message is that the economy is on a collision course and crash in imminent. Not only does more debt add nothing to the GDP, in fact, it causes economic contraction, including greater unemployment. The country is eating the seed corn with the result that accumulated capital may be gone before you know it. Immediate action is absolutely necessary to stop the hemorrhage, or the patient will bleed to death. 

Keynesians are watching the wrong ratio, that of debt-to-GDP. No wonder they constantly go astray as they miss one danger signal after another. They are sailing in the dark with the aid of the wrong navigational equipment. They are administering the wrong medicine. Their ambulance is unable to diagnose internal hemorrhage that must be stopped lest the patient be dead upon arrival. 




While prices of primary products such as crude oil and foodstuffs may initially rise, there is no purchasing power in the hands of the consumers, nor can they borrow as they used to in order to pay the higher prices much as though they would have liked to do. The newly created money has gone into bailing out banks, and much of it was diverted to continue paying bloated bonuses to bankers. Very little, if any of it has “trickled down” to the ordinary consumers who are squeezed relentlessly on their debts contracted in the past. 

It follows that price rises are unsustainable, as the consumer is unable to pay them. As a consequence the retail and wholesale merchants are also squeezed. They have to retrench. Pressure from vanishing demand is passed on further to the producers who have to retrench as well. All of them are experiencing an ebb in their operating cash flow. They lay off more people, aggravating the crisis further as cash in the hand of the consumers is diminished even more through increased unemployment. The vicious spiral is on. 


The full paper is well-worth a read. Note that the price squeeze concept puts Chris’s thesis on rising commodity prices as an unlikely scenario. More than likely prices will fall because of lack of purchasing power.

The market outcome more than likely will be severe deflation rather than inflation, however the politcal and banking class’s actions will determine the actual outcome. If the goal of the elite would be to save the debt at all costs, then severe deflation will switch to a loss of confidence mode after which hyperinflation ensues.

Hyperinflation is really just severe deflation, such a misnomer. 



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