The Big Picture

Or maybe the title of this post should be “The Big Pitcher”.  No, it’s not about a tall baseball pitcher, but the glass pitchers that central banks around the world hold.  What comes out of the pitcher when the central banks start pouring?  Money.  How do they do that?  It’s magic.  Don’t you wish you had a money pitcher?

Jerry forwarded me an article by someone at Matterhorn Asset Management, a Swiss asset management company that invests primarily in metals as a wealth preservation model so they will have a predisposition to a gloomy outlook because investors’ fears will bring more business to the company.  That said, the article presents a 200 year review and outlook on the mechanics of inflation and rather dire long term predictions for the world economy.

Featuring a 150 year chart on the Consumer Price Index and another one of US Debt to GDP ratio, this 6 page article definitely takes a long view of events in the past in making prognostications of the future. 

A comparison of the 19th and early 20th century with the latter part of the 20th century has to be put in a bit more perspective than this article does.  Electricity is something we take for granted but its effect on our lives has been as profound as the discovery of fire and the invention of cooking.  It is an energy that is readily available to most people in developed countries.  This ready source of energy has radically transformed our society, our productive capacity and our demand for products that use this energy.

In the 1920s, the new industry of radio telecommunications kicked off a bubble in the stock market.  Some predicted that we would walk around with communication devices that we wore on our wrists.  Information would be readily available to all with these cheap and portable two way radios.  It would be another 70 years before this dream would become a reality with the internet and the dawning of the cell phone age.  That in turn prompted another stock bubble in the late nineties.

When countries around the world abandoned the gold standard in the past century, they did so because the supply of gold could not keep up with the rapid expansion of production and demand that accompanied the energy and communication age.  How profound has this expansion been?  Several historians have noted that a person living in Boston in 1780 would have felt familiar with most of what surrounded him in that same city in 1900.  Jump ahead another 50 years to 1950 and that same person would be totally disoriented in a city with electricity, flashing lights, automobiles, subways, TVs, radios and the sheer growth in the population of the city.

The gold standard simply could not accommodate this rapid expansion of economic activity.  However, the gold standard put brakes on the centuries old tendency of sovereign countries to print money or debase the currency.  After abandoning the automatic regulatory mechanism of the gold standard, we have found nothing comparable to provide some restraint on central bankers other than a trust in the wisdom and foresight of those like Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  An entire world of billions of people depends on the wisdom of several hundred individuals making decisions at central banks around the world.  It is a daunting and vulnerable position we find ourselves in.

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