Depression…Hyperinflation…. …Both?

Posted by Bill Bonner - The Daily Reckoning

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As the US fights the former and Europe fights the latter, what are the odds both battles will be lost…?

Last week produced nothing but more disappointment. At the center of it was the Europeans’ inability to make their debt disappear. They had hoped that they could just announce a plan to take care of it…and that would be enough.

But then, the Greeks said they wanted to vote on it…and then, they didn’t. ‘Papandenomium,’ the papers called it. If the voters were allowed to give their opinions everybody knew what would happen; the whole fix would be unfixed quix. So, they all got together and twisted Papandreou’s arms…and his arms gave way.

And then, investors started getting nosey. They wanted details. They wanted to know how the French and the Germans could cover so many potential losses — from Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Italy.

Italy is in the worst position. It has scarcely any more debt than the US, but it has an immediate problem. It has to turn over its debt…it has to borrow heavily just to keep the wheels turning. And it lacks America’s key advantage…it doesn’t have a printing press. It gave up the power to print money when it joined the EU. Only the European Central Bank can print money…and it’s controlled by the Germans!

What’s the matter with the Germans, anyway? Why don’t they get on-board with the Fed? Why don’t they want to print money? If they would just give the signal — ‘don’t worry, we’ll print the money’ — the whole crisis would be over. In Europe, as in America, bond investors would be reassured. They would know that they’d get their money. The ECB would buy Italy’s bonds, and Greece’s bonds, and Spain’s bonds… Heck, it would buy everyone’s bonds. Bond investors would get their money. They would stop hiking interest rates. Italy could cover its losses.

Everyone would be better off, no? Just like they are in the USA. Right?

It all seems so simple. Why don’t the Germans get it?

While US policy makers, official economists and jackdaw kibitzers are terrified of another Great Depression, Germany’s officialdom is afraid of hyperinflation. Hardly any Germans are still alive who remember it, but the experience of hyperinflation of the early ’20s is painted on the German character like graffiti on a national monument. They can’t ignore it. They can’t forget it. It will take generations for it to wear off.

After the bitter experience of WWI, hyperinflation wiped out the German’s residual faith in their institutions. Working hard, saving your money, being a good citizen — none of it seemed to pay off. The ex-soldiers were bitterly disappointed. The ruling classes had let them down. The banks had betrayed them. The politicians had stabbed them in the back.

Even their money was worthless!

“How could 2,000 years of accumulated civilization have led to this…” (Or words to that effect) says the hero of Remarque’s famous All Quiet on the Western Front. Having no good answer, the Germans turned away from accumulated civilization, towards armed, mechanized zombieism.

In just a few years, Germany’s factories were working again — producing tanks and planes. It was a solution to the post-WWI unemployment and depression. Unfortunately, the solution was worse than the problem. The trains ran on time. But they were headed for disaster!

But that’s a long story.

Meanwhile, in the US, we have our memories too. Few people alive today recall the Great Depression. But it still haunts economists’ sleep and troubles their vacations.

“Not on my watch,” says Ben Bernanke, or words to that effect.

And so, the Americans fight depression. The Europeans fight hyperinflation.

And what will they get? Depression AND hyperinflation!

Yes, dear reader, that was our forecast as few years ago. We stick with it. The world is entering a depression. Growth has stalled. Even the emerging markets are slowing down…suffering the consumer depression exported from Europe and America and trying to fight the inflation exported, by QE2, from the US.

This depression isn’t going away anytime soon. It will take years to work through, write off, default and foreclose on the mountain of household, business, and financial debt built up over the last 60 years. At first, we thought it would take 7-10 years. We’re in year 5 already…and, at the present rate, it looks like it might take another 15 years!

But the authorities aren’t going to take a depression sitting down. Even the Germans will probably decide that a little bit of printing press money is better than the defaults and bankruptcies that accompany a depression. They’ll all guarantee each other’s credits. The banks guarantee the debts of their big customers. The government guarantees the debt of its big banks. The central banks guarantee the debts of the governments…and all print money to cover them.

What a great system.

Bill Bonner08 Nov ’11

Bill Bonner is founder and owner of Agora Inc., one of America’s largest consumer newsletter publishers. Editor of free The Daily Reckoning email – now read by more than 500,000 worldwide – he is also the author of three best-selling investment books, most recently Mobs, Messiahs & Markets (John Wiley, 2007).