Inflation and government borrowing

In his short article Inflation and You, Ludwig von Mises explains inflation itself, the social and economic effects of inflation, who inflation’s victims are, the futility of attempts to hedge against inflation, the moral and political effects of inflation and, finally, inflation and government borrowing. I thoroughly recommend the whole article, but I reproduce the section on government borrowing, which seems particularly pertinent at the moment:

Inflation and Government Borrowing

The writer, having witnessed the course of inflations in one European nation after another, believes that it is not too late to stop further inflation in the United States by bold and painful measures. Inflation is not an act of God. It is a result of the methods used to provide a part of the means for the conduct of the war. One set of methods can still be replaced by another, less harmful set. It is still possible to keep down the amount of money and money substitutes by financing the total amount necessary through taxation and loans.

People sometimes call inflation a special way of “taxing” a country’s citizens. This is a dangerous opinion. And it is wholly untrue. Inflation is not a method of taxation, but an alternative for taxation. When a government imposes taxes, it has full control. It can tax and distribute the burden any way it considers fair and desirable, allotting a larger share of the tax burden to those who are better able to carry it, reducing the burden on the less fortunate. But in the case of inflation, it sets in motion a mechanism that is beyond its control. It is not the government, but the operation of the price system, that decides how much this or that group will suffer.

And there is another important difference. All taxes collected flow into the vaults of the public treasury. But with inflation, the public treasury’s gain is less than what it costs the individual citizen, since a considerable part of that cost is drained off by the profiteers, the minority that benefits from the inflation.

It is no less fallacious to consider inflation as a method of raising loans for public use. Technically, inflation does increase the total of the government’s indebtedness to the banks. But the banks’ intervention is only instrumental. If the government borrows from the banks, the banks do not grant loans out of their own funds, or out of money deposited with them by the public; the banks are not real lenders; they grant the loans out of their “excess reserves.” They merely expand credit for the benefit of the government. In other words, they increase the quantity of money substitutes.

When you as an individual buy a government bond, you make a loan to the government; you put part of your cash holdings into the hands of the treasury. There is then no increase in the total quantity of currency or credits available and hence no inflation.

However, it is different when government borrows from the banks’ “excess reserves.” Their so-called “excess reserves” are not a tangible thing. The term is merely a phrase indicating the limits within which the law is prepared to tolerate credit expansion, that is to say further inflation. The effects of loans from available “excess reserves” are just as inflationary as the effects of issuing more paper money. It is a mistake, therefore, to confuse this government “borrowing” from the “excess reserves” of the banks with genuine loans.

Popular education is absolutely essential. It is clear that the efforts of the U.S. government to collect the means necessary for the conduct of the war by taxation and by sale of government bonds represent sound measures for heading off inflation. Everybody should be made to understand that the burden of high taxes and of making personal loans to the government are minor evils compared to the disastrous and inexorable consequences of inflation. Not only for the sake of the national welfare, but for the sake of your own interests–whether you are rich or poor, employer or wage earner–you should do your best to arrest the further progress of inflation.

See also Hülsmann, The Ethics of Money Production for a detailed explanation of how the production of money has become an instrument of exploitation and the consequences.

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Comments & Responses

2 Responses so far.

  1. Please disturbing copy & paste from an educated man :

    Inflation.! which type? we have two types

    Price Inflation or Circularity Inflation, Please differentiate