Short and Sweet

The next great monetary experiment

Uncle Sam poster with quote bubble saying 'I need vast sums of money!'

Daily Reckoning’s Brian Maher warns of the potential consequences of modern monetary theory. “This MMT sounds like a recipe for immense inflation, even hyperinflation,” he says. “You are spending all this money directly into the economy. It will drive consumer prices through the attic roof, you say. This is crackpot. A witch’s sabbath of inflation would surely result. Yes, but here the MMT crowd meets you head on… They agree with you. They agree MMT could cause a general inflation, possibly even a hyperinflation.” [Link to full article]

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), we would add to Maher’s observation, is neither modern nor a theory. John Law, the Scottish financier, tried a version of it almost exactly 300 years ago (1717-18) in France.* He did so with the blessing of the French monarchy and with a rationale very similar to MMT’s proponents today.  MMT entails, simply put, a federal government fiscal policy without spending limits coupled with the power to print whatever money is required to finance any deficits. In the end, Law’s theories (to his surprise if we are to believe the historical account) bankrupted the French people and the government, reduced the economy to ashes, and created such a distaste for paper scrip among the citizenry that it took 80 years for France to reintroduce paper money as a circulating medium.

In The Story of the Greatest Nations (1900), Edward S Ellis and Charles F. Home tell of the public mania that engulfed the French people and led to ultimate financial ruin for thousands:

“The shrewder speculators* became alarmed. They began to sell their shares of stock, and hoard in gold the enormous wealth they had acquired. This resulted in a demand on the government for metal in exchange for its paper, and soon the government had no metal to give. Then the crash came. Those who had the government paper could buy nothing with it. Those who held the Mississippi stock could scarce give it away. It was worthless. The government itself refused to accept its own paper for taxes. A few lucky speculators had made vast fortunes; but thousands of families, especially among the wealthier classes, were ruined.”

That snippet provides a hint as to the steps taken by those who survived Law’s version of modern monetary theory. For those to whom all of this has a distinct ring of familiarity, perhaps a judicious hedge makes some sense. A number of analysts have made the argument that we do not have to wait for the formal launch of modern monetary theory.  It is already here.

* Please see this link for a summary of  Law’s Mississippi Company land scheme.


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