Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos

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DPatty's picture
DPatty
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Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos

I like the videos in general as it makes some very interesting points.  The one point that I don't feel is valid however is that regarding the expanding money supply.  I get how the money supply must constantly expand at a given rate in order to provide money in the system to pay for the interest....this however is not necessarily a problem.  This is because money is a relative concept, not an aboslute one.

If the population were to expand at say 5% per year, then each year in ABSOLUTE terms there would be more "new" humans entering the planet.  This indeed would be a huge problem as the earth would begin to suffer PHYSICAL restraints as it would at some point be unable to sustain the new life.

Let's say that instead money grew at a rate of 5% per year.  The graph of the money supply would indeed be an exponential function and so would look as shown in the video.  This however is not a problem as even though in ABSOLUTE terms the dollars added each year would be growing, it would pose no PHYSICAL restraints on earth.  Sure, after a few years there may be say $1,000,000 added to every INDIVIDUAL's bank account, but that is not a problem if most individuals had say $50,000,000 in their account.  As money is a mental concept that depends only on relative ratios, I have to reject the notion that simply because it grows at a rate and is thus then exponential that it is a problem.  If it grows by 5% in year one, 5% in year two, and 5% in year three....that is not a problem then, it is just simply inflation.  It is only a problem if it grows at 5% in year one, 6% in year two, and 7% in year three....for that is hyperinflation, but no supporting evidence or logical argument is put forward to give rational as to why the RATE itself would be increasing.

 For this reasoning I feel it is invalid and misleading to show the population growth as an exponential function, say it is bad (which it is), then show the money supply afterwards as an exponential function and say it will be bad as well.  Saying that systems fail when they are exponential functions is fine so long as the system has PHYSICAL restraints (bacteria, humans, etc.) but not when it is a mental concept such as money.

 I'd love to hear other thoughts on this, and for the record think the video series in general is very well done and contains plenty of useful material.

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos

DPatty: What you say is true and you raise an excellent point.

But try telling your argument to a $7/hour wage earner who just lost their job or home because they were laid off and then didn't have the income to pay the mortgage or rent and so are now homeless.

The point I'm making is that while "money" is a human concept that is somewhat arbitrary in its details, the underlying concept is not. We desire money that stores the value of our labor and the labor we put out is a very physical thing. Humans desire that, and so they desire sound money (at least I hope most do!).

Also, the monetary system introduces its own biases into the direction of an economy. That is, our exponential, inflation based system demands growth in the hope of maintaining purchasing power. Likewise, a gold standard would undoubtedly be a huge boon for the gold mining and refining industries. These sorts of biases seem to be unavoidable, and perhaps they just simply force us to "pick our poison."

So the money system demands physical growth from us. In absolute terms (i.e. life and death) it doesn't force physical growth, but I think most people can acknowledge that money can be a pretty good motivator most of the time.

Hope this made sense. Thanks,

Mike

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos

Hi DPatty,

can I add this film to what Mike has explained, I think it will be helpful :-

Money As Debt

I think this is brilliant but, see what you think and let me know...Money mouth

My Best,

Paul

 

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos

Hi DPatty,

That is an excellent point.  I think it is addressed in Chapter 17-C of the Crash Course.

Anyway, you're absolutely right:  money can be printed in exponentially increasing fashion without running into any natural boundaries.  We can add as many zeroes onto the end of a $100 bill as we please.  However, the problem is that if we want those dollars to be worth anything, they have to represent the physical capacity to produce wealth.  If they do not, then you get a situation similar to Zimbabwe: the paper is being printed, but it's not worth anything.

In a debt-based monetary system, ultimately the value of the currency depends on the value of the debt instruments which back it.  And their value is dependent on the ability of the people to produce goods and services equal to the value of the debt, plus the interest due on it.  Ultimately, the value of the currency represents a given quantity of goods and services.

If the value of the currency unit is to be retained, then this exponentially increasing money supply must represent an exponentially increasing supply of goods and services.  Otherwise the value of the currency will begin to fall as the money supply continues to expand (out of necessity) but goods and services do not.

So far in our history with debt-based currency, goods and services (as well as human population) have indeed expanded exponentially, and our money system has reflected that.  But when one or more exponentially increasing physical systems reach their natural limit, or begin to decline, then the number of dollars in circulation must decline, to prevent inflation.

However our monetary system can't decline or even remain static.  It must continue to grow.  When a growing monetary system is placed into an environment where it really ought to shrink or stay the same in order to reflect the true supply of goods and services, then the value of the currency might collapse, since the physical goods and services which support the value of each dollar will no longer be able to grow exponentially alongside the money supply.

Since the supply of money is directly connected with the supply of goods and services that it represents, an equilibrium must be maintained between the two.  Failure of our physical assets to grow alongside the money supply is bad news.

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos

P.S. 

DPatty wrote:

If it grows by 5% in year one, 5% in year two, and 5% in year
three....that is not a problem then, it is just simply inflation.  It
is only a problem if it grows at 5% in year one, 6% in year two, and 7%
in year three....for that is hyperinflation

Almost.  5% inflation is okay as long as the supply of goods and services is increasing by the same amount.  That keeps the value of the currency constant in relation to goods and services.  In fact, this was part of the problem with unmanaged gold-based currency: as the supply of goods and services expanded, the amount of gold in circulation remained the same, and therefore money became more and more expensive as the boom progressed until people could no longer afford loans.  Essentially the rate of economic growth was limited to the rate at which gold could be extracted from the ground, if the balance between the amount of money, and the total production of goods and services was to be maintained.

Thus 15% inflation is a problem only because that rate of monetary growth is much higher than the rate of growth in goods and services. It's all relative to the production of goods and services.  In a world where (hypothetically) the rate at which goods and services could be produced was declining by 8% per year, then a nation might still experience hyperinflation even if the currency was growing at a rate of 5%.

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos

jrf29: Your responses are dead on. While I try to point out that the monetary system is a very important mechanism that greatly influences our behaviors, fundamentally it is goods and services that affect our standard of living.

A lot of people have attempted to think of what might replace our monetary system and perhaps our government is doing that right now. I personally like the idea of a gold standard and to the extent that it limited expansion in the past, I say we might have been better off that way in the long run. It's not perfect, but at the moment I can't think of anything with more integrity and a closer connection to the productive capacity. Gold is not perfect, but can we really trust our leaders to accurately determine the amount of real growth in the economy and then adjust the money supply accordingly? Wouldn't political interests and corruption just get in the way a la the way unemployment and inflation have been systematically understated for political purposes?

Mike

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos
Mike Pilat wrote:

Also, the monetary system introduces its own biases into the direction of an economy. That is, our exponential, inflation based system demands growth in the hope of maintaining purchasing power.

 

Why must the purchasing power be maintained?  Sure, if money is growing at a rate of 10% per year, then that car that used to cost $1,000 now costs $1,100.  But that is not a problem, as it is now just as easy to get $1,100 as getting a $1,000 used to be.

Mike Pilat wrote:

 

 Likewise, a gold standard would undoubtedly be a huge boon for the gold mining and refining industries. These sorts of biases seem to be unavoidable, and perhaps they just simply force us to "pick our poison."

 

This is not true as the gold miners would still be subject to the laws of supply and demand.  Let us imagine for a moment that we are on the gold standard and so all goods are priced in gold.  A barrel of oil costs 5 ounces and an hour of a miner's labour will cost 1 ounce.  So if a mining company knows of a gold deposit underground that will take 10 barrels of oil and 10 hours of labour to access, it will not mine to the ore body unless it containts ATLEAST 60 ounces (5 oz / oil * 10 oil + 1 oz / man * 10 man = 60 oz).  So if the gold deposit contains 100 ounces then at these prices it WILL be mined because it is PROFITABLE.  This is a benefit to society as since the prices are determined on a free-market, they are "saying" that they would rather have 100 oz of gold than 50 barrels of oil and 10 hours of a man's labour.  Notice how if the deposit still has 100 oz of gold but the price of oil is now 10 ounces per barrel and man's labour is 2 ounces per hour.  The cost of accessing the ore deposit would now be 120 ounces (10 oz / oil * 10 oil + 2 oz / man * 10 man = 120 oz).  As such the ore body will NOT be mined because it is UNPROFITABLE.  Which is of course a good thing as to pursue this action is basically selfish because you are "consuming" oil and labour when the public is "saying" they would rather have them used for other purposes.  As you can see, mining companies would be subject to the same sort of incentives as all businesses; profit vs loss.  They would be no more or less profitable then normal business.

Mike Pilat wrote:

  

So the money system demands physical growth from us. In absolute terms (i.e. life and death) it doesn't force physical growth, but I think most people can acknowledge that money can be a pretty good motivator most of the time.

 

I don't quite understand what you mean by the above quote.  I think you would REALLY enjoy this book however on the gold standard: http://mises.org/books/whathasgovernmentdone.pdf

The above is a link to the FREE pdf.  It is a short read as the font is actually quite large and there are lots of footnotes which take up a lot of the pages.  It also reads very well as it is well written.

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos
Vanityfox451 wrote:

Hi DPatty,

can I add this film to what Mike has explained, I think it will be helpful :-

Money As Debt

I think this is brilliant but, see what you think and let me know...Money mouth

My Best,

Paul

 

I'll be watching this video this weekend and will let you know if it clears things up for me.  I might have seen it before, and again, I understand that with a debt-based system the money supply must constantly expand, I'm just not convinced that it is necessarily a problem as it seems to me that the prices of goods will just adjust due to the laws of supply and demand.

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos
jrf29 wrote:

Almost.  5% inflation is okay as long as the supply of goods and services is increasing by the same amount.  That keeps the value of the currency constant in relation to goods and services.  In fact, this was part of the problem with unmanaged gold-based currency: as the supply of goods and services expanded, the amount of gold in circulation remained the same, and therefore money became more and more expensive as the boom progressed until people could no longer afford loans.  Essentially the rate of economic growth was limited to the rate at which gold could be extracted from the ground, if the balance between the amount of money, and the total production of goods and services was to be maintained.

 Again, I don't see the necessity for money to remain constant relative to other goods.  My learning of economics in fact leads me to believe that price-fixing creates HUGE problems.  Goods and services should be able to float and change depending on the supply and demand landscape.

 If the supply of gold remains the same, and the amount of goods increase, then the prices of things will simply fall.  This is fine...there is no problem with this.  I think you would also really enjoy the book linked to up above.

Again, I don't quite see the problem with money increasing in absolute terms...I will be doing more reading/watching/learning over next few days to get a better understanding of things.

 Thanks for the responses to all.

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos

Yes as productivity increases on a gold standard the purchasing power of each dollar unit does increase.  Since the early 1900's and the creation of the Federal Reserve, and from monetarist view, they believe it is healthy to maintain a 3% inflation to stabilize prices.  But the truth is that you don't need to do this at all.  The truth is that the money supply cannot be easily manipulated to give the exact desirable amount of inflation.  It's sort of an - add some now and wait to see what we get later - sort of thing.  Usually the monetarists always overexpand the money supply.  The solution is to allow prices to fall and let your currency strengthen.  What's wrong with having a dollar with increased purchasing power?  For a given company, if expenses are reduced because of lower prices then it can also sell products/services at lower prices.  It's the difference - the profit margin that counts.  If employee wage is a dominant expense for the company then the wage can be permitted to fall.  The real wage rate is the purchasing power of the wage.  If the cost of all goods fall and your wages stay the same you are essentially being paid more from an economic point of view.  If the increased real wage cuts into profit margins and creates unemployment then the wage height can be reduced, but this will only keep the real wage constant in line with falling prices.

The problem becomes complex when one has debt denominated in dollars while one's wage rate falls.  The debt is still priced at the old dollar strength.  However, this can be solved by having the principle of the debt to track real dollar purchasing power.  We pay interest on debt today to compensate for anticipated future dollar weakness / loss of investment due to inflation.  However, if we have increasing dollar strength then the debt principle should be reduced commensurate with increased purchasing power and with real interest rates.

The monetarists liked inflation to stabilize prices.  But like I said, they always tend to over inflate the money.  This creates boom/bust cycles.  It also maintains and provides a feeling of increased wealth considering if your wage goes up you feel rewarded for productive labor and also  more wealthy.  However, it may only be a pay raise to track the real rate of inflation.  If your pay were to fall due to deflation that would make you feel poorer.

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos
DPatty wrote:

Why must the purchasing power be maintained?  Sure, if money is growing at a rate of 10% per year, then that car that used to cost $1,000 now costs $1,100.  But that is not a problem, as it is now just as easy to get $1,100 as getting a $1,000 used to be.

  You're assuming that the velocity of money is infinitely fast.  If everybody was paid their salaries, and then spent their money instantly, then inflation would never be a problem.  But you're ignoring the effect of inflation on savings, and that is where it wreaks havoc.  Society cannot run solely on the amount of value that is produced from day to day. Savings are essential to investment and growth, and to individual security and retirement.

Furthermore, inflation does not manifest itself equally throughout the economy at the same time.  When the central bank prints more money, that money is received first by certain entities, and later by other entities as it filters through the economy.  Adjustment to wages generally lags behind prices.  Therefore, in any inflationary environment, wage workers will be paying new higher prices before their wages are adjusted upward.  The greater the rate of inflation, the more pronounced this tendency.

Your assumption about the velocity of money is accurate, though.  In countries experiencing hyperinflation, people try to spend their money as soon as they get it, before its value decreases.  But savings are severely damaged.

DPatty wrote:

Again, I don't see the necessity for money to remain constant relative to other goods.  My learning of economics in fact leads me to believe that price-fixing creates HUGE problems.

You're confusing price fixing with monetary regulation.  You're right: price fixing is bad because it treats a symptom rather than a cause, and is ultimately futile.  Russia tried this during the Soviet years.  Realizing that it was unable to regulate the currency in a sophisticated way, the Kremlin opted for a more simple solution: it printed plenty of money.  More than the population could spend.  Then it fixed the prices of all goods.  The result?  Store shelves were perpetually empty.  All the product was sold to whomever got to the store first!  The government then imposed limits on the number of products a person could buy at once.  All of this was treating a symptom, and the economy ground to a virtual halt under the regulation.

Quote:

  If the supply of gold remains the same, and the amount of goods increase, then the prices of things will simply fall.

  Correct.  Another equivalent way of looking at it is that the value of money will increase relative to goods and services. Interest rates will go up.

Quote:

This is fine...there is no problem with this.

Up to a point, this is true.  However if a car is $1,000 one month, and $1,100 the next month, people will rush to spend their money since they know that their savings are being destroyed.  If the price is going down, they will likewise refrain from spending, since the longer they wait, the more valuable their money becomes.

Another enormous problem involves the repayment of long-term debts.   You should be familiar with the misery which occurred in the US during the post-bellum deflation, or the deflation of the 1930's.  In a deflationary environment (where the value of money increases), debt contracts (such as mortgages) which were made in a time of inflation are still payable.  But if the value of money has increased in the meantime, then the same amount of wheat or corn sold on the open market will bring fewer dollars.  This results in many people being unable to pay their debts.  This is what caused the mass defaults of the 1870's and 1930's.

Quote:

Again, I don't quite see the problem with money increasing in absolute terms...

  Then you don't see the benefits which money brings.  The entire reason why the Federal Reserve (and all other central banks) were set up was to promote price stability.  Money is supposed to represent a fairly fixed quantity of goods and services.

Your thinking above, if I am correct, seems to center on the idea that money is spent as soon as it is made.  If a car costs 10% more this year than last year, but I also made 10% more, then there is no problem.

But there is a problem.  And the problem is that in order for any modern economy to work, there are many debt instruments and contracts which persist for years or decades.  The long-term investment of a nation relies on the viability of such long-term projects.  A person who wishes to build a factory, for example, may issue debt obligations which will be payed off over the course of many years.  When he does this, he is counting on the value of the currency remaining relatively stable over the course of that loan.  If the value of the currency changes significantly or unpredictably over that time period, such long-term investment is not possible, which does immense damage to the economy.

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos

DPatty: You raise a few good points. Let me clarify.

In an ideal, theoretical sense, what you say about the supply of money is mostly correct. The catch is that the money that is printed gets sent to big banks to small banks to bosses and then to you. As a result, there is a time lag between the rising prices and the rising salaries and it is in this period of time that you watch the value of your savings get destroyed. Anyone who has lived through the Zimbabwe inflation can confirm this. At the hyperinflation extreme, there really is no such thing as taking a week off of work because you would have very few places to save and store value that wouldn't be destroyed very quickly in that time. The ugly reality is that high inflation tends to lower unemployment and tends to reduce savings. 

Strictly speaking, if we switched to a pure non-dollar gold standard, then I suppose gold supply would increase as you stated. But I think we would see that instead of buying a car today with, say 20 ounces of gold, we might need much fewer in the gold standard future, simply as a result of the amount of gold we have relative to the goods and services. As far as new mining goes, what you say makes sense to me!

The last point you quoted me on was simply meant to say that fundamentally energy and resources are the problem. But the whole way that we interconnect all of the economic activities associated with life's necessities is with money. And so if I require money to obtain some of life's necessities because I cannot directly get all of them on my own, then I think it's safe to say that having at least a minimal amount of money is very important. If we have an inflationary monetary system, we will have to continue to work very hard just to ensure that we are able to make ends meet. 

Let's look at inflation again too. When we lose the value of our savings because of inflation, where does that value go? What happens is that the value it once held is stolen or diluted by the newly created money. And that newly created money generally goes through the banking system before it comes to us. So it's pretty clear to me that purchasing power and wealth is transferred directly from us to those that get the newly created money first. This is unjust, in my opinion. The situation would actually be a bit improved if Ben Bernanke fired up his helicopter and we each had an equal chance of catching the cash that rained down.

The Rothbard book that you mention is certainly on my reading list, but I now have a backlog of about 2,500 pages of new books so it is going to take me a little while ;)

Thanks,
Mike

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos

 

Also, typically the gold supply can be mined and expanded at a rate of a few percent a year.  That offsets any population expansion.

 

Here's some good reading:

http://mises.org/story/1829

Quote:

The major objection against 100 percent gold is that this would
allegedly leave the economy with an inadequate money supply. Some
economists advocate a secular increase of the supply of money in
accordance with some criterion: population growth, growth of volume of
trade, and the like; others wish the money supply to be adjusted to
provide a stable and fixed price level. In both cases, of course, the
adjusting and manipulating could only be done by government. These
economists have not fully absorbed the great monetary lesson of
classical economics: that the supply of money essentially does not
matter. Money performs its function by being a medium of exchange; any
change in its supply, therefore, will simply adjust itself in the
purchasing power of the money unit, that is, in the amount of other
goods that money will be able to buy. An increase in the supply of
money means merely that more units of money are doing the social work
of exchange and therefore that the purchasing power of each unit will
decline. Because of this adjustment, money, in contrast to all other
useful commodities employed in production or consumption, does not
confer a social benefit when its supply increases. The only reason that
increased gold mining is useful, in fact, is that the large supply of
gold will satisfy more of the non--monetary uses of the gold commodity.

 

and:

http://mises.org/story/3231

 

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos

jrf29: Your response is excellent, and a much more lucid summary than my own. Thank you for that contribution!

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos
jrf29 wrote:

So far in our history with debt-based currency, goods and services (as well as human population) have indeed expanded exponentially, and our money system has reflected that.  But when one or more exponentially increasing physical systems reach their natural limit, or begin to decline, then the number of dollars in circulation must decline, to prevent inflation.

I'm still not quite getting it...  I understand that it causes inflation, but I am only viewing HYPERINFLATION as a problem.  I get how our money supply must expand, but don't see what the problem is even if some form of production hits a PHYSICAL limit.  For example...let's say that the money supply is expanding at a rate of 5% per year, and then for some reason we hit our limit for apple production and so the apples are actually SHRINKING at 3% per year.  This will result in the price per apple going up at a CONSTANT rate of 8.25% per year, every year there after.

 So I understand the above creates inflation, but don't see what the problem with that coming is because it is still constant.  Like in the 70's I believe it was inflation was around 18% or so, yet this did not cause people to abandon the currency.  Which is why I don't see what the problem is in the above scenario.  I am only seeing a problem if the price per apple is INCREASING at say 8.25% in year one, 9.25% in year two, 10.25% in year three.

 Thanks in advance for everyone who has posted.  It is much appreciated and I'm just trying to get this sorted out in my head :)

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos
DPatty wrote:

I'm still not quite getting it...  I understand that it causes inflation, but I am only viewing HYPERINFLATION as a problem.

  Well, that's quite a bit different.  Hyperinflations are periods of massive panic, when people, afraid that their life savings are becoming worthless, decide to cash in their currency en masse, resulting in it's total collapse (or the central bank begins printing much faster, for whatever reason).  As I understand it, it would be more correct to think of it in this way: the higher the inflation rate, the greater the risk of an episode of hyperinflation occurring. Inflation in the 70's may have peaked at 18%.  But if it had remained there for longer, then there would have been the distinct risk of people attempting to abandon the currency.

DPatty wrote:

This will result in the price per apple going up at a CONSTANT rate of 8.25% per year, every year there after.

  That's as I understand it too.  That doesn't lead directly to a hyperinflation, although it increases the risk of one if people begin to lose faith in the currency as a long-term store of value.  Again, as you have said, if I make a dollar today and spend it immediately, it doesn't matter what the inflation rate is.  But people have life savings to protect.  If those people begin to try to cash out of the currency, a hyperinflation can happen.  I'm sure there is more intricate relationship between inflation and hyperinflation, but I'm not knowledgeable enough to say what it is.

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Re: Error in One Of the Crash Course Videos

I'm slowly learnign guys :)....thanks.

 From all these posts so far it seems that the only problem is when the public loses confidence in the system, which probability is increased when the inflation rate is raised.

So why on earth would those who have a monopoly on the money supply tempt this level and risk using all their power, and an awesome position of power?

 Like If I had a monopoly over the money supply, I would just not exceed say 5% as that way I would surely not be taking too much wealth from individuals.  I don't get though why we have case after case of hyperinflation then, as this is fairly obvious reasoning on the part of the monopoly owners.  Surely all the cases of hyperinflation are not simply caused by those in charge of the system getting "careless".  If they began increasing the money supply too quickly they would understand they have to slow down big tim or else jeapordize their whole position.

 This is what makes me think that a certain economic condition might come about where the HAVE to increase the money supply at an INCREASING rate.  I just don't get what environment must be created to have this happen.

 Thanks again.

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