Jan 19 2009
Harvard Economic historian Niall Ferguson on the Colbert Report explains the concept of “invisible money”. I just bought Ferguson’s new book, The Ascent of Money over the holidays and am looking forward to reading it. In his interview with Colbert, the historian explains that money as we know it is only worth something because we think it is worth something. Colbert can’t seem to believe that there’s no underlying intrinsic value such as a gold standard backing the value of his dollar bill, which has in fact been the case since the early 1970s in America.
Ferguson says that money represents a relationship of trust between a creditor and debtor, which is one reason there seems to be so little money available for spending in the economy today. Macroeconomic uncertainty and low consumer confidence are the main causes of the today’s global recession. In a climate of fear and uncertainty, the trust underpinning our monetary system dries up. Banks are afraid to make loans, consumers are afraid to make big purchases, and firms are afraid to make capital investments. The result? Low aggregate demand, falling income and output and rising unemployment.
Paul Krugman, in his latest book the The Return of Depression Economics argues that the fundamental solution to a financial crisis such as today’s is to drastically increase the money supply. The $350 billion that the Bush administration has pumped into the financial system already seems to have done very little to prime the economic pumps, so to speak. To restore trust, and thus stimulate real spending in the economy once again, creating income, output, and real employment, massive monetary stimulus will be needed. A trillion dollar stimulus package by an Obama administration should not come as a surprise, should it be put to the nation to vote on in the near future.
Our love of money is a little less impassioned than it was a few years ago, according to Ferguson. Not because money no longer serves an essential function in our lives, rather because we have lost much of our faith in our monetary system’s ability to create and maintain stable economic conditions and long-run economic growth. To restore Americans’ faith in the almighty dollar and put the economy back on a track towards stability and growth, a massive fiscal and monetary stimulus is needed. Okay, time to start reading The Ascent of Money and to watch less Comedy Central!
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