by Jeff Nielson
Hyperinflation is an insidious, economic killer. It inevitably (but insanely) creeps up on its Victims in plain sight, before decimating them with an always unexpected ambush. How can one of the most-obvious of all economic phenomena always end up as a “surprise”?
Because none of the Victims ever believe that hyperinflation is possible. Point out that the U.S. dollar has lost 98% of its value in the 100 years that the Federal Reserve has been responsible for preserving its value, and people will yawn – it’s old news. But then assert that it is about to lose the last 2% of that value, and (amazingly) the response will be laughter and/or derision.
Look at a chart showing a 98% decline in anything, and the expectation will be that the last 2% is also about to be lost. Or, in market vernacular; “the Trend is your friend.” It is irrational, bordering on insane to expect such a chart to reverse itself, or even stabilize. Indeed, it is charts of this nature which spawned the expression “past the point of no return.”
Yet when people look at charts of currencies, in this case worthless paper currencies; the mere suggestion that a currency could go to zero is a concept literally beyond the comprehension of nearly all of our populations. If a person finds it impossible to conceptually conceive of lions, then a lion could simply walk up and eat that person.
We will not/cannot protect ourselves from a “risk” which we do not believe to be within the realm of possibility. One does not take precautions to protect themselves from the “risk” of man-eating butterflies, or killer-bunnies. Thus is hyperinflation perceived by the masses: the Threat of the Killer-Bunnie.
In less-extreme forms; the inability to acknowledge/accept (obvious) reality could be described as “normalcy bias”. Because almost all Change (even large changes) is impossible to perceive in real-time; it is a common human intellectual flaw to expect tomorrow to be like today (or yesterday). A tomorrow which is not like either today or yesterday is not perceived to be within the realm of possibility.
However, with respect to hyperinflation we are not dealing with mere Normalcy Bias, but rather its substantially more-extreme cousin: Cultural Insanity. There are several empirical reasons for reaching this more dramatic diagnosis.
Obviously hyperinflation is not a Killer-Bunnie. There are numerous, documented historical examples of this economic killer. There is a very recent historical example (the Zimbabwe dollar), and there are several extremely obvious examples of hyperinflation currently in progress (Western, paper currencies).
It is normal/sane not to believe in the existence of Killer-Bunnies, unless one has read about people being devoured by Killer-Bunnies, has watched Killer-Bunnies devouring people, and is watching Killer-Bunnies devouring people. In such a reality; it would be insane not to believe in something which can (easily) be empirically perceived.
Regular readers have seen the chart below on the U.S. dollar on numerous occasions. It clearly and unequivocally depicts a hyperinflation-in-progress: a vertical line as supply (of U.S. dollars) goes to infinity. It is a fact of mathematics/economics that as the supply of anything goes to infinity its price must go to zero.