terça-feira, 18 de setembro de 2007

Banca, Bancos Centrais e Ciclos económicos

The Austrian Theory of the Trade Cycle, Economic Depressions: Their Cause and Cure, Murray N. Rothbard

"Mises developed the following theory of the business cycle:

Without bank credit expansion, supply and demand tend to be equilibrated through the free price system, and no cumulative booms or busts can then develop. But then government through its central bank stimulates bank credit expansion by expanding central bank liabilities and therefore the cash reserves of all the nation's commercial banks. The banks then proceed to expand credit and hence the nation's money supply in the form of check deposits. As the Ricardians saw, this expansion of bank money drives up the prices of goods and hence causes inflation. But, Mises showed, it does something else, and something even more sinister. Bank credit expansion, by pouring new loan funds into the business world, artificially lowers the rate of interest in the economy below its free market level.

On the free and unhampered market, the interest rate is determined purely by the "time-preferences" of all the individuals that make up the market economy. For the essence of a loan is that a "present good" (money which can be used at present) is being exchanged for a "future good" (an IOU which can only be used at some point in the future). Since people always prefer money right now to the present prospect of getting the same amount of money some time in the future, the present good always commands a premium in the market over the future. This premium is the interest rate, and its height will vary according to the degree to which people prefer the present to the future, i.e., the degree of their time-preferences.

People's time-preferences also determine the extent to which people will save and invest, as compared to how much they will consume. If people's time-preferences should fall, i.e., if their degree of preference for present over future falls, then people will tend to consume less now and save and invest more; at the same time, and for the same reason, the rate of interest, the rate of time-discount, will also fall. Economic growth comes about largely as the result of falling rates of time-preference, which lead to an increase in the proportion of saving and investment to consumption, and also to a falling rate of interest.

But what happens when the rate of interest falls, not because of lower time-preferences and higher savings, but from government interference that promotes the expansion of bank credit? In other words, if the rate of interest falls artificially, due to intervention, rather than naturally, as a result of changes in the valuations and preferences of the consuming public?

What happens is trouble. For businessmen, seeing the rate of interest fall, react as they always would and must to such a change of market signals: They invest more in capital and producers' goods. Investments, particularly in lengthy and time-consuming projects, which previously looked unprofitable now seem profitable, because of the fall of the interest charge. In short, businessmen react as they would react if savings had genuinely increased: They expand their investment in durable equipment, in capital goods, in industrial raw material, in construction as compared to their direct production of consumer goods.

Businesses, in short, happily borrow the newly expanded bank money that is coming to them at cheaper rates; they use the money to invest in capital goods, and eventually this money gets paid out in higher rents to land, and higher wages to workers in the capital goods industries. The increased business demand bids up labor costs, but businesses think they can pay these higher costs because they have been fooled by the government-and-bank intervention in the loan market and its decisively important tampering with the interest-rate signal of the marketplace.

The problem comes as soon as the workers and landlords?largely the former, since most gross business income is paid out in wages?begin to spend the new bank money that they have received in the form of higher wages. For the time-preferences of the public have not really gotten lower; the public doesn't want to save more than it has. So the workers set about to consume most of their new income, in short to reestablish the old consumer/saving proportions. This means that they redirect the spending back to the consumer goods industries, and they don't save and invest enough to buy the newly-produced machines, capital equipment, industrial raw materials, etc. This all reveals itself as a sudden sharp and continuing depression in the producers' goods industries. Once the consumers reestablished their desired consumption/investment proportions, it is thus revealed that business had invested too much in capital goods and had underinvested in consumer goods. Business had been seduced by the governmental tampering and artificial lowering of the rate of interest, and acted as if more savings were available to invest than were really there. As soon as the new bank money filtered through the system and the consumers reestablished their old proportions, it became clear that there were not enough savings to buy all the producers' goods, and that business had misinvested the limited savings available. Business had overinvested in capital goods and underinvested in consumer products.

The inflationary boom thus leads to distortions of the pricing and production system. Prices of labor and raw materials in the capital goods industries had been bid up during the boom too high to be profitable once the consumers reassert their old consumption/investment preferences. The "depression" is then seen as the necessary and healthy phase by which the market economy sloughs off and liquidates the unsound, uneconomic investments of the boom, and reestablishes those proportions between consumption and investment that are truly desired by the consumers. The depression is the painful but necessary process by which the free market sloughs off the excesses and errors of the boom and reestablishes the market economy in its function of efficient service to the mass of consumers. Since prices of factors of production have been bid too high in the boom, this means that prices of labor and goods in these capital goods industries must be allowed to fall until proper market relations are resumed.

Since the workers receive the increased money in the form of higher wages fairly rapidly, how is it that booms can go on for years without having their unsound investments revealed, their errors due to tampering with market signals become evident, and the depression-adjustment process begins its work? The answer is that booms would be very short lived if the bank credit expansion and subsequent pushing of the rate of interest below the free market level were a one-shot affair. But the point is that the credit expansion is not one-shot; it proceeds on and on, never giving consumers the chance to reestablish their preferred proportions of consumption and saving, never allowing the rise in costs in the capital goods industries to catch up to the inflationary rise in prices. Like the repeated doping of a horse, the boom is kept on its way and ahead of its inevitable comeuppance, by repeated doses of the stimulant of bank credit. It is only when bank credit expansion must finally stop, either because the banks are getting into a shaky condition or because the public begins to balk at the continuing inflation, that retribution finally catches up with the boom. As soon as credit expansion stops, then the piper must be paid, and the inevitable readjustments liquidate the unsound over-investments of the boom, with the reassertion of a greater proportionate emphasis on consumers' goods production.

Thus, the Misesian theory of the business cycle accounts for all of our puzzles: The repeated and recurrent nature of the cycle, the massive cluster of entrepreneurial error, the far greater intensity of the boom and bust in the producers' goods industries."

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