Boom and Bust
SEPTEMBER 01, 1981 by LUDWIG VON MISES
An increase in the quantity of money or fiduciary media is an indispensable condition of the emergence of a boom. The recurrence of boom periods, followed by periods of depression, is the unavoidable outcome of repeated attempts to lower the gross market rate of interest by means of credit expansion. There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.
The breakdown appears as soon as the banks become frightened by the accelerated pace of the boom and begin to abstain from further credit expansion. The change in the banks’ conduct does not create the crisis. It merely makes visible the havoc spread by the faults which business has committed in the boom period.
The dearth of credit which marks the crisis is caused not by contraction but by the abstention from further credit expansion. It hurts all enterprises—not only those which are doomed at any rate, but no less those whose business is sound and could flourish if appropriate credit were available. As the outstanding debts are not paid back, the banks lack the means to grant credits even to the most solid firms. The crisis becomes general and forces all branches of business and all firms to restrict their activities. But there is no means of avoiding these consequences of the preceding boom.
Prices of the factors of production—both material and human—have reached an excessive height in the boom period. They must come down before business can become profitable again. The recovery and return to “normalcy” can only begin when prices and wage rates are so low that a sufficient number of people assume that they will not drop still more. Therefore the only means to shorten the period of bad business is to avoid any attempts to delay the fall in prices and wages. Any attempt of the government or labor unions to prevent or delay this adjustment merely prolongs the stagnation.
Out of the collapse of the boom there is only one way back. Wage rates must drop; people must restrict their consumption temporarily until the capital wasted by mal-investment is restored.
The belief of the advocates of credit expansion and inflation that abstention from further credit expansion and inflation would perpetuate the depression is utterly false. The remedies these authors suggest would not make the boom last forever. They would merely upset the process of recovery.
The boom can last only as long as the credit expansion progresses at an ever-accelerated pace. The boom comes to an end as soon as additional quantities of fiduciary media are no longer thrown upon the loan market. But it could not last forever even if inflation and credit expansion were to go on endlessly. It would then encounter the barriers which prevent the boundless expansion of circulation credit. It would lead to the crack-up and the breakdown of the whole monetary system.