Debt Deflation

Irving Fisher was a leading economist in the early 20th century. After being caught out during the Great Depression (he famously quipped, “Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” right before the bottom fell out), he did a lot of soul-searching and research to understand where he and his profession had gone wrong. By 1933, he had come up with a framework which very well describes what happened during the depression and happens in similar episodes of credit crisis.

From an issue of Econometrica in 1933: “Assuming, accordingly, that, at some point of time, a state of over-indebtedness exists, this will tend to lead to liquidation, through the alarm either of debtors or creditors or both”. Then we may deduce the following chain of consequences in nine links:

1. Debt liquidation leads to distress selling and to
2. Contraction of deposit currency, as bank loans are paid off, and to a slowing down of velocity of circulation. This contraction of deposits and of their velocity, precipitated by distress selling, causes
3. A fall in the level of prices, in other words, a swelling of the dollar. Assuming, as above stated, that this fall of prices is not interfered with by reflation or otherwise, there must be
4. A still greater fall in the net worths of business, precipitating bankruptcies and
5. A like fall in profits, which in a “capitalistic,” that is, a private-profit society, leads the concerns which are running at a loss to make
6. A reduction in output, in trade and in employment of labor. These losses, bankruptcies and unemployment, lead to
7. pessimism and loss of confidence, which in turn lead to
8. Hoarding and slowing down still more the velocity of circulation.

The above eight changes cause

9. Complicated disturbances in the rates of interest, in particular, a fall in the nominal, or money, rates and a rise in the real, or commodity, rates of interest.

Evidently debt and deflation go far toward explaining a great mass of phenomena in a very simple logical way.

One Comment

  1. anonymous

    Well before Irving, here’s an article that was written in 1902 by a certain L.M.Holt. Well worth a read!

Leave a Comment

Awesome! You've decided to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated.