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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Globalisation and economic depression - some strategies

China has its problems. Monsters and Critics, quoting UPI, says that 3.5 million jobs could go if the yuan appreciates much more against the dollar. But if it doesn't, the trade imbalance continues and the economy and stockmarket carry on overheating. So China too is between a rock and a hard place.

In the long run and given free global trade, surely low-wage economies will take work from the higher-wage ones, until we reach equilibrium. It's the rate of change that makes it messy. For people like the Chinese, they have to work out how to take over our manufacturing capacity without bankrupting their biggest customers; for the West, how to lose all this work and wealth and remain democracies.

Richard Duncan thinks it can't be done without some original form of intervention - he suggests a steadily rising minimum wage, to give the worker in the developing economies enough money to take over the job of buying things, a job that we in the West thought was ours for life.

But the implication for us seems clear - we must become poorer. The winners among us will be those who are able to extract capital out of their possessions and preserve it. Marc Faber says that there are bubbles everywhere - property, shares, commodities - but I guess that in a deflationary world there must be something that will increase in value relative to most other things.

Cash seems obvious - the deflation of the Thirties was such that in the UK we had the Geddes Axe, actually cutting the wages of public servants to maintain a steady relationship between money and things (UPDATE: I got Geddes wrong - see HERE - sorry). So public servants who had accumulated savings would have done well - if they had saved. For many others, it was unemployment and poverty. To get an idea of the process and consequences, read "Twopence to cross the Mersey" by Helen Forrester, a real-life story about the economic descent of her middle-class family, which had (typically) lived on credit before the Crash.

Some fear that our governments will shudder at the thought of repeating that period and will try to buy their way out of the jam by printing money, in which case we could go from deflation to hyperinflation, and this is where the gold-bugs raise their voices.

On this analysis, I should think the strategy is clear. First, get out of/avoid debt. Then, live simply, and if possible convert unnecessary assets to cash - which you may partly invest in whatever you think will hold its value. And look for the steadiest job you can find?

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