I was reading a paper that I originally saw on Zero Hedge, and I will quote a few paragraphs that I think are relevant to our current economic situation:
Variability in time preferences changes interest and capital formation. If lower time preference and higher savings and lower interest rates created higher valuations in earlier-stage capital (factors of production) which initiates a capital investment boom, this newfound excess profitability would be neutralized by lower demand for present consumption goods and lower valuations in that later-stage capital. (John Maynard Keynes’ favored paradox of thrift is completely wrong, as it ignores the effect on capital investment of increased savings, and resulting productivity—and ignores the destructiveness of inflation, as well.)
But there is an enormous difference between changes in aggregate time preference and central bank interest rate manipulation. Where this is all heading: The Austrian theory of capital and interest leads to the logical explication of the boom and bust cycle. To the logic of the Austrians, extreme stock market loss, or busts—correlated entrepreneurial errors, as we say—are not a feature of natural free markets. Rather, it is entirely a result of central bank intervention. When a central bank lowers interest rates, what essentially happens is a dislocation in the market’s ability to coordinate production. The lower rates make otherwise marginal capital (having marginal return on capital) suddenly profitable, resulting in net capital investment in higher-order capital goods, and persistent market maladjustments.
Despite the signals given off by the lower interest rates, the balance between consumption and savings hasn’t changed, and the result is an across-the-board expansion—rather than just capital goods at the expense of consumption goods. What the new owners of capital will find is that savings are unavailable later in the production process. These economic cross currents—more hunger for investment by entrepreneurs seizing perceived capital investment opportunities, and consumers not feeding that hunger with savings, but rather actually consuming more—creates a situation of extreme unsustainable malinvestment that ultimately must be liquidated.
The only way out of the misallocated, malinvestment of capital, is a buildup of actual resources (wealth) in the economy in order to support it. This could result from lower time preferences (but as we know compressed interest rates actually inhibit savings)—or of course by accumulated reinvested profits over time (but of course time will not be on the side of marginal malinvested capital earning economic losses).
Credit expansion raises capital investment in the short run, only to see the broad inevitable collapse of the capital structure. Eventually the economic profit from capital investment and the lengthening of the production structure are disrupted, as the low interest rates that made such otherwise unprofitable, longer term investment attractive disappear. As reality sets in, and as time preferences dominate the interest rates again (even central banks cannot keep asset valuations rising forever), projects become untenable and must be abandoned. Despite the illusory signs from the interest rate market, the economy cannot support all of the central bank-distorted capital structure, and the boom becomes visibly unsustainable.
I believe this is what we’re experiencing currently, and in Europe. Our markets have become so distorted will malinvestment that its going to be extremely difficult to recover because of our debt load, public and private. It’s very difficult to tell between a good investment and a bad one, currently. I have no recommendations in this regard.
However, if this idea of malinvestment is true, and I believe it is, then 2008 was just the tip of the iceberg. With runs on the banks in Greece and Spain, and bank failures now in Portugal, the Euro’s viability is threatened and the trillions of dollars that the US has invested in securities in the Euro could very well turn out to be bad investments.
Time will tell if this idea is correct.