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The Impossibility of Economic Calculation in a Fiat World

Posted by Gonzalo Schwarz
February 11, 2013


By Alasdair Macleod

The purpose of keeping accurate accounts is to quantify net worth at any given point in time – as well as the change from a prior date. It goes without saying that the measure used, money, should be constant if comparisons over time are to mean anything. Only then do prices of capital goods, consumer goods and services truly reflect their changing values, giving important signals to businessmen. With unstable fiat money market signals lose much of their meaning.

 

It is not normal for businessmen to fret over this. They tend to work from management accounts which are usually prepared monthly, and over that time-scale a depreciating currency is unnoticed – except in the case of monetary extremes. However, businessmen should pay attention to the problem, because the accumulation of entrepreneurial wealth is achieved over many years; its productive value can be significantly altered by fluctuations in the purchasing power of unstable money.

 

Governments in countries like the United Kingdom have destroyed much of their manufacturing industry through currency depreciation, while Germany contrasts with a history of engineering excellence and a firm currency. The German business owner in the post-war years had relative certainty of economic calculation, allowing him to build up his productive wealth; while the British business lobby resorted to encouraging successive governments to keep costs down by devaluing the pound, rather than investing their own resources in more efficient production.

 

Reducing costs by managing the currency is, to put it less politely, all about robbing the workforce of the purchasing power of its wages. But the workforce is, in economic terms, made up of individual entrepreneurs selling their skills and labour to employers. They are the unconscious victims of devaluation as indeed are small businesses, but at least in the short-term the central planners manipulating fiat money congratulate themselves that jobs have been saved. …

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