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Is Deflation Bad In A Debt Free Economy?

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Now that we may have witnessed the birth of the first private, distributed e-currency (Bitcoin), I have been pondering on the economics of it. It has gone from being a 'it may never work' to 'blimey, it's value is shooting up' in a little over a year. However, the real meat of the matter is what the implications are and whether it is feasible.

As we all (should) know, deflation is bad for those with debt. The real value of the debt increases as deflation takes hold. For debtors struggling to meet repayments in an inflationary environment, a deflationary environment could be a death grip. I don't think there are any arguments there (if so, please list them).

What of a debt free economy though? If there are no debtors to slowly strangle through deflation, what are the negative factors?

Firstly, people will argue that people won't buy goods, as they will be better off holding onto their appreciating money. However, that's not the whole truth - they will only buy what is necessary. This difference is key, as people will not refuse to eat, find shelter or entertain themselves, just to accumulate more money (which by this line of reasoning, they won't spend anyway).

Secondly, people will argue that they won't be able to borrow to expand their business ventures, therefore preventing the economy from functioning. Considering that if everyone borrows, it negates much the value of the benefit (see house price inflation for details), is this true either though? What is to stop someone building up a business, providing services that people genuinely want (ie. not forced to speculate on due to inflation), then increasing their re-investment? Instead of spending productivity of tomorrow, they will be spending productivity of yesterday. Is this flip side better, worse or just different? Given that we always have what we earned yesterday, but not what we plan to earn tomorrow, it is arguably a more robust system, no?

Thirdly, if there is only one currency and it is deflating excessively, due to hoarding, then we have a problem - the rentiers will be moving in and restricting the supply of currency (see gold standard for details). However, if you have alternative currencies, hoarding by some will lead to the abandonment of the currency by others, thus reducing the price of the currency, tempering the excessive deflation. In short, the economy would shift from using an overly hoarded currency to a more freely available one. Further more, an alternative currency which is too freely available would not likely be the alternative of choice.

In the past, alternative currencies have been too cumbersome (who wants loads of different types of notes?), but now we have mobile smart phones, which can act as Internet connected digital wallets - these can potentially transfer to any currency, to any other, instantly and on the fly. Therefore, it seems quite possible that several currencies could be popular at any time... in fact, there may be fewer currencies which span countries, rather than the many state currencies we have now (which can often not be spent between borders either).

So, I'd like to hear the debate. Is deflation bad in an economy without already accumulated debt? Additionally, if deflation looked likely to be the destination in the future, would credit be a big part of such a currency?

One thing is clear - competition will discover which is the best approach. Should the bankers be quaking in their boots or laughing all the way to their banks? Will interest (ie. reflection of growth) on an inflating currency outstrip the performance of a deflating currency, which leads to less wasteful/speculative spending? Perhaps we are about to witness the currency battle royal. I'm looking forward to watching the war unfold.

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Price goes up, supply goes up - if allowed.

Agreed, which is why alternative currencies would provide supply, in such an environment. I think Hayek was dead right on this; the question is whether they are practical. I would say yes, now that technology can facilitate it (and, ofc, the governments can't stop it).

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Now that we may have witnessed the birth of the first private, distributed e-currency (Bitcoin), I have been pondering on the economics of it. It has gone from being a 'it may never work' to 'blimey, it's value is shooting up' in a little over a year. However, the real meat of the matter is what the implications are and whether it is feasible.

As we all (should) know, deflation is bad for those with debt. The real value of the debt increases as deflation takes hold. For debtors struggling to meet repayments in an inflationary environment, a deflationary environment could be a death grip. I don't think there are any arguments there (if so, please list them).

What of a debt free economy though? If there are no debtors to slowly strangle through deflation, what are the negative factors?

Firstly, people will argue that people won't buy goods, as they will be better off holding onto their appreciating money. However, that's not the whole truth - they will only buy what is necessary. This difference is key, as people will not refuse to eat, find shelter or entertain themselves, just to accumulate more money (which by this line of reasoning, they won't spend anyway).

Secondly, people will argue that they won't be able to borrow to expand their business ventures, therefore preventing the economy from functioning. Considering that if everyone borrows, it negates much the value of the benefit (see house price inflation for details), is this true either though? What is to stop someone building up a business, providing services that people genuinely want (ie. not forced to speculate on due to inflation), then increasing their re-investment? Instead of spending productivity of tomorrow, they will be spending productivity of yesterday. Is this flip side better, worse or just different? Given that we always have what we earned yesterday, but not what we plan to earn tomorrow, it is arguably a more robust system, no?

Thirdly, if there is only one currency and it is deflating excessively, due to hoarding, then we have a problem - the rentiers will be moving in and restricting the supply of currency (see gold standard for details). However, if you have alternative currencies, hoarding by some will lead to the abandonment of the currency by others, thus reducing the price of the currency, tempering the excessive deflation. In short, the economy would shift from using an overly hoarded currency to a more freely available one. Further more, an alternative currency which is too freely available would not likely be the alternative of choice.

In the past, alternative currencies have been too cumbersome (who wants loads of different types of notes?), but now we have mobile smart phones, which can act as Internet connected digital wallets - these can potentially transfer to any currency, to any other, instantly and on the fly. Therefore, it seems quite possible that several currencies could be popular at any time... in fact, there may be fewer currencies which span countries, rather than the many state currencies we have now (which can often not be spent between borders either).

So, I'd like to hear the debate. Is deflation bad in an economy without already accumulated debt? Additionally, if deflation looked likely to be the destination in the future, would credit be a big part of such a currency?

One thing is clear - competition will discover which is the best approach. Should the bankers be quaking in their boots or laughing all the way to their banks? Will interest (ie. reflection of growth) on an inflating currency outstrip the performance of a deflating currency, which leads to less wasteful/speculative spending? Perhaps we are about to witness the currency battle royal. I'm looking forward to watching the war unfold.

Another problem with deflation at the sort of level seen on Bitcoin is that you are not for example going to agree to pay one bitcoin per month for a mobile phone contract because in 2 years time, that could be a lot of money.

I think the deflation issue will kill Bitcoin before it manages to take off. People at the moment are buying it as a speculative bubble investment rather than as a means of exchange. When it stops being effective as a speculative investment, people will sell it, it will crash in value, and everyone will lose faith in it as a store of value.

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Question: how do people save in a debt free economy without contracting demand and causing the economy to shrink.

e.g. consider a debt free economy of two producers. One is a dairy farmer the other a baker. The baker produces 6 loaves of bread, keeps 3 for his family and sells the other 3 (for 6 gold coins) and buys 6 pints of milk (1/2 gold coind each) from the farmer. The farmer makes 12 pints of milk a day and buys 3 loaves of bread by selling 6 pints of milk.

One day the baker decides he wants to start saving a gold coin each day for some time in the future. He plans to do this by selling his 3 loaves of bread and buying only 4 pints of milk. But suddenly the farmer is only able to sell 4 pints of milk! The only way he can make ends meet is by reducing his output to 10 pints and buying only 2 loaves of bread. Thus, the baker is unable to save any money and also between them they are producing less bread and less milk, so their incomes have declined.

edit: please note this isn't some combative smart **** post, I know nothing beyond my armchair economics and am genuinely interested if there is a way of having no debt without there equally being no savings ...

Edited by gimble

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Another problem with deflation at the sort of level seen on Bitcoin is that you are not for example going to agree to pay one bitcoin per month for a mobile phone contract because in 2 years time, that could be a lot of money.

Agreed - excessive inflation or deflation are not good properties of a currency. However, on the flip side, it is drawing money into the Bitcoin economy. If it wasn't deflationary, would there be as much interest (excuse the pun!) in the currency?

Additionally, it encourages people to do more to earn Bitcoins now than in the future (as it's appreciating). This must be a trade off against the longer term value. Largely, I agree that big fluctuations in inflationary or deflationary pressures aren't good for planning around.

I think the deflation issue will kill Bitcoin before it manages to take off. People at the moment are buying it as a speculative bubble investment rather than as a means of exchange. When it stops being effective as a speculative investment, people will sell it, it will crash in value, and everyone will lose faith in it as a store of value.

I agree that's a danger, but I don't think it is a sure thing.

In many ways, Bitcoins may let the alternative currency genie out of the bottle. In the long run, it may not be the last one standing, but others may stand on the shoulders of giants in the future. Once governments realise they can't stop Bitcoins, alternatives may become accepted as it would be futile/pointless to try to stop them.

Anyway, I would like the debate to focus not on Bitcoins as such, as their role is beside the central point about deflation. We have just done Bitcoins to death in the other thread too! :)

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As we all (should) know, deflation is bad for those with debt. The real value of the debt increases as deflation takes hold. For debtors struggling to meet repayments in an inflationary environment, a deflationary environment could be a death grip. I don't think there are any arguments there (if so, please list them).

Here is one. Debt interest does not have to be positive!

If deflation is running at 5%, and you make someone a loan at -3%, you'll still get back your capital plus a small profit, in real terms. Debt is therefore still viable with a deflating currency.

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Here is one. Debt interest does not have to be positive!

If deflation is running at 5%, and you make someone a loan at -3%, you'll still get back your capital plus a small profit, in real terms. Debt is therefore still viable with a deflating currency.

Except you won't, because you can keep the money under the mattress and get 0%.

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Except you won't, because you can keep the money under the mattress and get 0%.

Depends then whether the risk of lending = the risk of burgarly/fire/loss.

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Hmm. Money is just confidence.

What happens if you hoard a load of iPounds and people desert them and start using eBunds? Your iPounds are now worthless. Will you save again, or would you get rid of any eBunds you get as soon as possible and buy assets? And if everyone feels the same, who will sell you those assets for your eBunds?

So my [Edited] answer is: Yes, deflation in a debt free economy is bad because it leads to hoarding, which leads to that money token being abandoned. This cycle repeats until everyone flees to assets and we get a barter economy.

(This post has been deliberatly sensationalised in order to make my point betterer).

Edited by Timm

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Question: how do people save in a debt free economy without contracting demand and causing the economy to shrink.

e.g. consider a debt free economy of two producers. One is a dairy farmer the other a baker. The baker produces 6 loaves of bread, keeps 3 for his family and sells the other 3 (for 6 gold coins) and buys 6 pints of milk (1/2 gold coind each) from the farmer. The farmer makes 12 pints of milk a day and buys 3 loaves of bread by selling 6 pints of milk.

One day the baker decides he wants to start saving a gold coin each day for some time in the future. He plans to do this by selling his 3 loaves of bread and buying only 4 pints of milk. But suddenly the farmer is only able to sell 4 pints of milk! The only way he can make ends meet is by reducing his output to 10 pints and buying only 2 loaves of bread. Thus, the baker is unable to save any money and also between them they are producing less bread and less milk, so their incomes have declined.

This works better with some competition. Suppose we have two farmers and two bakers.

Baker 1 saves a gold coin, as above. Each of the farmers sells only 11 pints that day. In return, only 5 loaves of bread are purchased from the bakers. For simplicity, lets assume no further saving takes place.

What happens next? Farmer 1 cuts his milk price to 0.45 gold coins each and sells all 6 pints instead of 5, for 0.45*6 = 2.7g instead of the 0.5*5 = 2.5g he got the day before. The other farmer loses out! One of the bakers takes a similar approach with his bread. The cycle continues and eventually the prices settle at a new level, where the same amount of bread and milk is consumed and produced, but prices are lower.

Baker 1 has caused deflation by removing a gold coin from circulation, but he has not reduced the output of the economy.

When he spends the gold coin, he will introduce inflation to the economy, but overall output will again settle to the same level. This is pretty much the same thing as will happen with an inflationary debt based economy. Money is not real savings. It's a claim on production & resources. Your bank balance represents what share of the available production at that time you are able to lay claim to. Saving don't exist because of debt. They exist because you've reduced your slice of the pie now in order to have a bigger slice of the pie later. The size of the pie is unaffected. It will all be consumed whatever you do.

If bread didn't go off and the baker started building up a massive stockpile of it, that would be a *real* saving. But currency just represents your share of everyone else's stuff.

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Bitcoin is not 'an economy'. The UK is an economy, the world is an economy.

The pound is not an economy, therefore neither is bitcoin.

In the UK there is nothing to stop you using indian rupees to buy stuff if you can find someone who'll take them, therefore the 'pound' is not a definition of the UK economy.

Therefore, whether bitcoin is inflating or deflating we are unable to say anything about whether this is good or bad for the 'bitcoin economy' because it doesn't exist.

Bitcoin exists as a zit on a massive debt based economy, and its not possible to separate the two in any meaningful sense.

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what are the negative factors?

Firstly, people will argue that people won't buy goods, as they will be better off holding onto their appreciating money. However, that's not the whole truth - they will only buy what is necessary. This difference is key, as people will not refuse to eat, find shelter or entertain themselves, just to accumulate more money (which by this line of reasoning, they won't spend anyway).

Secondly, people will argue that they won't be able to borrow to expand their business ventures, therefore preventing the economy from functioning. Considering that if everyone borrows, it negates much the value of the benefit

Deflation will not reduce consumption or discretionary spend to any great degree, the proof is everywhere - you only have to look at anything that has got nominally cheaper over the years like various gadgets, computers, musical instruments and equipment etc.

Credit IS required for business investment though, you only have to look at some ex USSR countries to see what a shit state you can get into in a near zero credit society.

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Hmm. Money is just confidence.

What happens if you hoard a load of iPounds and people desert them and start using eBunds? Your iPounds are now worthless. Will you save again, or would you get rid of any eBunds you get as soon as possible and buy assets? And if everyone feels the same, who will sell you those assets for your eBunds?

So my [Edited] answer is: Yes, deflation in a debt free economy is bad because it leads to hoarding, which leads to that money token being abandoned. This cycle repeats until everyone flees to assets and we get a barter economy.

(This post has been deliberatly sensationalised in order to make my point betterer).

Both the desertion and the hoarding will surely offset one another though. You may get booms and busts as preferences change, but the propensity to save or spend can change regardless. Additionally, the fact that you can hold both eBunds and iPounds at the same time would be a good hedge and would likely lead to less large swings from one to another (IMO).

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Question: how do people save in a debt free economy without contracting demand and causing the economy to shrink.

e.g. consider a debt free economy of two producers. One is a dairy farmer the other a baker. The baker produces 6 loaves of bread, keeps 3 for his family and sells the other 3 (for 6 gold coins) and buys 6 pints of milk (1/2 gold coind each) from the farmer. The farmer makes 12 pints of milk a day and buys 3 loaves of bread by selling 6 pints of milk.

One day the baker decides he wants to start saving a gold coin each day for some time in the future. He plans to do this by selling his 3 loaves of bread and buying only 4 pints of milk. But suddenly the farmer is only able to sell 4 pints of milk! The only way he can make ends meet is by reducing his output to 10 pints and buying only 2 loaves of bread. Thus, the baker is unable to save any money and also between them they are producing less bread and less milk, so their incomes have declined.

edit: please note this isn't some combative smart **** post, I know nothing beyond my armchair economics and am genuinely interested if there is a way of having no debt without there equally being no savings ...

demand for needed things wont decline, unless the population does.

its luxuries that would suffer in a deflation....but they are wasteful spends anyway.

meanwhile, for savers, they would be tempted to buy something sometime.

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Both the desertion and the hoarding will surely offset one another though. You may get booms and busts as preferences change, but the propensity to save or spend can change regardless. Additionally, the fact that you can hold both eBunds and iPounds at the same time would be a good hedge and would likely lead to less large swings from one to another (IMO).

My personal opinion is that the only way you can use something that has no inherent utility as money, is through confidence and through creating a need for the tokens. Confidence is built up over many years, and switching from one essentially useless medium of exchange to another will only erode confidence in the concept as a whole.

As to creating a need for the tokens, the absence of debt is not going to help with that. And how does the state create need through taxation if there are multiple competing monies?

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Now that we may have witnessed the birth of the first private, distributed e-currency (Bitcoin), I have been pondering on the economics of it. It has gone from being a 'it may never work' to 'blimey, it's value is shooting up' in a little over a year. However, the real meat of the matter is what the implications are and whether it is feasible.

As we all (should) know, deflation is bad for those with debt. The real value of the debt increases as deflation takes hold. For debtors struggling to meet repayments in an inflationary environment, a deflationary environment could be a death grip. I don't think there are any arguments there (if so, please list them).

What of a debt free economy though? If there are no debtors to slowly strangle through deflation, what are the negative factors?

Firstly, people will argue that people won't buy goods, as they will be better off holding onto their appreciating money. However, that's not the whole truth - they will only buy what is necessary. This difference is key, as people will not refuse to eat, find shelter or entertain themselves, just to accumulate more money (which by this line of reasoning, they won't spend anyway).

Secondly, people will argue that they won't be able to borrow to expand their business ventures, therefore preventing the economy from functioning. Considering that if everyone borrows, it negates much the value of the benefit (see house price inflation for details), is this true either though? What is to stop someone building up a business, providing services that people genuinely want (ie. not forced to speculate on due to inflation), then increasing their re-investment? Instead of spending productivity of tomorrow, they will be spending productivity of yesterday. Is this flip side better, worse or just different? Given that we always have what we earned yesterday, but not what we plan to earn tomorrow, it is arguably a more robust system, no?

Thirdly, if there is only one currency and it is deflating excessively, due to hoarding, then we have a problem - the rentiers will be moving in and restricting the supply of currency (see gold standard for details). However, if you have alternative currencies, hoarding by some will lead to the abandonment of the currency by others, thus reducing the price of the currency, tempering the excessive deflation. In short, the economy would shift from using an overly hoarded currency to a more freely available one. Further more, an alternative currency which is too freely available would not likely be the alternative of choice.

In the past, alternative currencies have been too cumbersome (who wants loads of different types of notes?), but now we have mobile smart phones, which can act as Internet connected digital wallets - these can potentially transfer to any currency, to any other, instantly and on the fly. Therefore, it seems quite possible that several currencies could be popular at any time... in fact, there may be fewer currencies which span countries, rather than the many state currencies we have now (which can often not be spent between borders either).

So, I'd like to hear the debate. Is deflation bad in an economy without already accumulated debt? Additionally, if deflation looked likely to be the destination in the future, would credit be a big part of such a currency?

One thing is clear - competition will discover which is the best approach. Should the bankers be quaking in their boots or laughing all the way to their banks? Will interest (ie. reflection of growth) on an inflating currency outstrip the performance of a deflating currency, which leads to less wasteful/speculative spending? Perhaps we are about to witness the currency battle royal. I'm looking forward to watching the war unfold.

Yes - that is bad. A mild inflation of say 1% pa is probably ideal due to human nature. If you get a pay cut of 1% but prices fall by 1%, you will feel

pretty bad. If prices rises by 1% and you get a 1% pay rise, you still feel that you are worth more this year than the previous.

A higher inflation is of course theft.

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My personal opinion is that the only way you can use something that has no inherent utility as money, is through confidence and through creating a need for the tokens. Confidence is built up over many years, and switching from one essentially useless medium of exchange to another will only erode confidence in the concept as a whole.

As to creating a need for the tokens, the absence of debt is not going to help with that. And how does the state create need through taxation if there are multiple competing monies?

Confidence is fuelled by being able to spend the currency. If there are lots of individuals/merchants buying and selling stuff for said currency, you will have confidence in someone else accepting it. Money is only worth something, because someone else values it (be it government fiat, silver, gold or whatever).

Businesses trading with one another create a sort of credit - a sales order, followed by an invoice is the seller giving the buyer credit. This is closer to distributed mutual credit than what traditional banks offer though, with different dynamics. If a buyer pulls out, you have wasted your productivity, but you haven't spent what you haven't earned.

EDIT: To add, the state will have a harder time creating need. I don't think that's a bad thing though.

Edited by Traktion

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Confidence is fuelled by being able to spend the currency. If there are lots of individuals/merchants buying and selling stuff for said currency, you will have confidence in someone else accepting it. Money is only worth something, because someone else values it (be it government fiat, silver, gold or whatever).

Businesses trading with one another create a sort of credit - a sales order, followed by an invoice is the seller giving the buyer credit. This is closer to distributed mutual credit than what traditional banks offer though, with different dynamics. If a buyer pulls out, you have wasted your productivity, but you haven't spent what you haven't earned.

trading using bitcoins is probably what they would call the black market. If it takes off, it will be illegal, or if you are caught, you are gonna get a tax bill...in Fiat.

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Bitcoin is not 'an economy'. The UK is an economy, the world is an economy.

The pound is not an economy, therefore neither is bitcoin.

In the UK there is nothing to stop you using indian rupees to buy stuff if you can find someone who'll take them, therefore the 'pound' is not a definition of the UK economy.

Therefore, whether bitcoin is inflating or deflating we are unable to say anything about whether this is good or bad for the 'bitcoin economy' because it doesn't exist.

Bitcoin exists as a zit on a massive debt based economy, and its not possible to separate the two in any meaningful sense.

I mean as economic activity being conducted with Bitcoins. If I do some work in exchange for Bitcoins, I am surely contributing to the Bitcoin economy.

In fact, if I lived my day to day life trading my productivity for a debt free currency*, then I would be forced to give my customers credit directly (essentially, as distributed mutual credit) or not at all. They could break contract and not pay me for my productivity, but it's quite different from the sort of centralised credit systems that we have now.

* Not possible, due to having to pay taxes and the national debt interest, which is why I understand your point about not separating completely.

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trading using bitcoins is probably what they would call the black market. If it takes off, it will be illegal, or if you are caught, you are gonna get a tax bill...in Fiat.

Oh, I'm sure you will get a tax bill - I would expect that. The black market would almost certainly grow though. However, if you conduct your business outside of the banking system, you stop feeding the parasites.

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I mean as economic activity being conducted with Bitcoins. If I do some work in exchange for Bitcoins, I am surely contributing to the Bitcoin economy.

In fact, if I lived my day to day life trading my productivity for a debt free currency*, then I would be forced to give my customers credit directly (essentially, as distributed mutual credit) or not at all. They could break contract and not pay me for my productivity, but it's quite different from the sort of centralised credit systems that we have now.

* Not possible, due to having to pay taxes and the national debt interest, which is why I understand your point about not separating completely.

The point is, given that bitcoins co-exist with a (so far) non deflating widely used medium of exchange, until bitcoins are the majority medium of exchange, your question cannot be answered empirically.

Theoretically, you could take a look at periods of deflationary money in history, particularly 1100-1500, and for this period look at stuff like how many transactions took place using barter, and what progress there was in real wages or aggregate output growth during this period.

Hint: lots of barter, little or no debt and no meaningful change in economic output for 400 years.

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The point is, given that bitcoins co-exist with a (so far) non deflating widely used medium of exchange, until bitcoins are the majority medium of exchange, your question cannot be answered empirically.

Theoretically, you could take a look at periods of deflationary money in history, particularly 1100-1500, and for this period look at stuff like how many transactions took place using barter, and what progress there was in real wages or aggregate output growth during this period.

Hint: lots of barter, little or no debt and no meaningful change in economic output for 400 years.

Of course the greatest expansion in wealth in history happened under a deflation also.

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Deflation in a debt free economy means the rich get richer and the poor get poorer (see the several hundred years of deflation from the 16c onwards) ... If that is bad or not depends on if you are rich or poor to start with.

* Your a rich family, and every year your money is worth more money and you never need to work for generations,your kids inherit your wealth which is more than yours

* Your a poor family, you cannot save any money, mortgage/loans are impossible unavailable because of deflation there is no way out, each generation is poorer than the previous one

The bitcoin currency is a micro example of this, early entrants are the richest, new entrants struggle and there is a tipping point where they get poorer no matter what they do. Inflation alternatively erodes wealth, it nibbles away at the wealthy, and allows the poor to borrow money from the future so they can be richer for a period of time, or if they are very successful for a number of generations (as long as each generation continues to be succesful)

Edited by AteMoose

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  • 312 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

    1. 1. Including the effects Brexit, where do you think average UK house prices will be relative to now in June 2020?


      • down 5% +
      • down 2.5%
      • Even
      • up 2.5%
      • up 5%



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