Monster and the Fed

A blog post originally written for the Prometheus Institute.

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There’s a reason the earliest economists likened the economy to a human body

I’m a huge fan of Monster energy drinks.  The things are dangerous.  I have to severely limit myself.  I only consume one if I’m in desperate need of a wake-up and I know I can handle the crash that inevitably follows.

Energy drinks are basically a way of fooling your body.  When the human body needs something, it sends all kinds of signals to let you know.  When you need sleep, you feel tired.  It tells you when you need food.   You feel sick when you’ve not eaten the right nutritional mix.  Health problems kick in when exercise is lacking.  Headaches can mean lack of sleep, water, nutrition, too much stress, bad posture, etc.  These signals can be a pain in the butt – but they perform a vital function.  Ignore them at your own peril.

Your body is begging you to sleep; so you slam a Monster to make you feel like you have energy and shut down the bodily signals screaming for repose.  This may give you a temporary productive burst, but there is no long-run net benefit.  The burst is followed by a crash of equal (sometimes greater) magnitude on the opposite end.  Worse still, the greenish liquid you’re putting in via Monster has other deleterious health effects (sugar and acid which rot your teeth to name just one) that will be especially pronounced if you frequently imbibe.  So while your body is tricked into telling you that you feel great for a few hours, inside bad things are happening, and they’ll be felt in short order.

If you begin to rely on high doses of caffeine and ginseng, you find the dosage must be continually increased, which makes the crashes greater.  To avoid the crashes, even more must be taken; but this only prolongs the inevitable and causes more negative health effects.  It can get to a point where the Monster fails to give you a boost at all.  (If you’ve gotten this far, I suggest stopping vs. moving on to anything stronger).

Monetary inflation is a lot like a Monster drink, and the Fed is a lot like an addict.

The current housing “crisis” was created in part by the Fed injecting constant doses of caffeine-like dollar bills into the economy, tricking the market into thinking it had more capital than it did, and mixing up a system as vital to economics as your nerves are to your body – prices, profits and interest rates.

The problem with mortgages was created largely by the Fed increasing the money supply, causing rates to be artificially low like your body is artificially energized via Monster.  Meanwhile, the screwed up rates diverted capital and production away from its truly best use towards uses that looked deceptively profitable – i.e. the purchase of crappy mortgages banked on exaggerated equity rates.  The natural market signals were fuzzied by an injection of valueless dollars, and some made decisions based on those false signals.

As with Monster, a crash has to come.

I would say that the Fed should be as careful with inflation as I am with Monster, but that wouldn’t be a fair comparison.  They need to be far more careful than that.  When I drink Monster, I choose to do so and take the consequences myself.  When the Fed inflates they are force feeding the monetary Monster to us and making us pay for the fallout.  That’s not just economic stupidity, it’s moral transgression.

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