The entire economics world is abuzz about the intriguing smackdown between Paul Krugman and Ron Paul on Bloomberg. The Guardian summarises:
- Ron Paul said it’s pretentious for anyone to think they know what inflation should be and what the ideal level for the money supply is.
- Paul Krugman replied that it’s not pretentious, it’s necessary. He accused Paul of living in a fantasy world, of wanting to turn back the clock 150 years. He said the advent of modern currencies and nation-states made an unmanaged economy an impracticable idea.
- Paul accused the Fed of perpetrating “fraud,” in part by screwing with the value of the dollar, so people who save get hurt. He stopped short of calling for an immediate end to the Fed, saying that for now, competition of currencies – and banking structures – should be allowed in the US.
- Krugman brought up Milton Friedman, who traversed the ideological spectrum to criticize the Fed for not doing enough during the Great Depression. It’s the same criticism Krugman is leveling at the Fed now. “It’s really telling that in America right now, Milton Friedman would count as being on the far left in monetary policy,” Krugman said.
- Paul’s central point, that the Fed hurts Main Street by focusing on the welfare of Wall Street, is well taken. Krugman’s point that the Fed is needed to steer the economy and has done a better job overall than Congress, in any case, is also well taken.
I find it quite disappointing that there has not been more discussion in the media of the idea — something Ron Paul alluded to — that most of the problems we face today are extensions of the market’s failure to liquidate in 2008. Bailouts and interventionism has left the system (and many of the companies within it) a zombified wreck. Why are we talking about residual debt overhang? Most of it would have been razed in 2008 had the market been allowed to liquidate. Worse, when you bail out economic failures — and as far as I’m concerned, everyone who would have been wiped out by the shadow banking collapse is an economic failure — you obliterate the market mechanism. Should it really be any surprise that money isn’t flowing to where it’s needed?
A whole host of previously illiquid zombie banks, corporations and shadow banks are holding onto trillions of dollars as a liquidity buffer. So instead of being used to finance useful and productive endeavours, the money is just sitting there. This is reflected in the levels of excess reserves banks are holding (presently at an all-time high), as well as the velocity of money, which is at a postwar low:
Krugman’s view that introducing more money into the economy and scaring hoarders into spending more is not guaranteed to achieve any boost in productivity.
As I wrote last month:
The fundamental problem at the heart of this is that the Fed is trying to encourage risk taking by making it difficult to allow small-scale market participants from amassing the capital necessary to take risk. That’s why we’re seeing domestic equity outflows. And so the only people with the apparatus to invest and create jobs are large institutions, banks and corporations, which they are patently not doing.
Would more easing convince them to do that? Probably not. If you’re a multinational corporation with access to foreign markets where input costs are significantly cheaper, why would you invest in the expensive, over-regulated American market other than to offload the products you’ve manufactured abroad?
So will (even deeper) negative real rates cause money to start flowing? Probably — but probably mostly abroad — so probably without the benefits of domestic investment and job creation.
Nor is it guaranteed to achieve any great boost in debt relief.
As Dan Kervick wrote for Naked Capitalism last month:
Inflation only reduces debt overhang in a significant way for households who are fortunate enough to see their nominal wages rise along with the general rise in prices. In today’s economy, workers are frequently not so fortunate.
Again, I have to bring this back to why we are even talking about debt relief. The 2008 crash was a natural form of debt-relief; the 2008 bailouts, and ongoing QE and Twist programs (which contrary to Professor Krugman’s apologetics really do transfer wealth from the middle classes to Wall Street) crystallised the debt burden born from a bubble created by Greenspan’s easy money policies. There would be no need for a debt jubilee (either an absolute one, or a Krugmanite (hyper)inflationary one) if we had simply let the market do its work. A legitimate function for government would have at most been to bail out account holders, provide a welfare net for poor people (never poor corporations) and let bankruptcy courts and markets do the rest. Instead, the central planners in Washington decided they knew best.
The key moment in the debate?
I am not a defender of the economic policies of the emperor Diocletian. So let’s just make that clear.
Actually you are.
Ron Paul is dead right. Krugman and the bailout-happy regime for which he stands are absolutely following in the spirit of Diocletian.
From Dennis Gartman:
Rome had its socialist interlude under Diocletian. Faced with increasing poverty and restlessness among the masses, and with the imminent danger of barbarian invasion, he issued in A.D. 301 an edictum de pretiis, which denounced monopolists for keeping goods from the market to raise prices, and set maximum prices and wages for all important articles and services. Extensive public works were undertaken to put the unemployed to work, and food was distributed gratis, or at reduced prices, to the poor. The government – which already owned most mines, quarries, and salt deposits – brought nearly all major industries and guilds under detailed control.
Diocletian explained that the barbarians were at the gate, and that individual liberty had to be shelved until collective liberty could be made secure. The socialism of Diocletian was a war economy, made possible by fear of foreign attack. Other factors equal, internal liberty varies inversely with external danger.
While Krugman does not by any means endorse the level of centralism that Diocletian introduced, his defence of bailouts, his insistence on the planning of interest rates and inflation, and (most frighteningly) his insistence that war can be an economic stimulus (in reality, war is a capital destroyer) all put him firmly in Diocletian’s economic planning camp.
So how did Diocletian’s economic program work out?
Well, I think it is fair to say even without modern data that — just as Krugman desires — Diocletian’s measures boosted aggregate demand through public works and — just as Krugman desires — it introduced inflation.
Diocletian’s mass minting of coins of low metallic value continued to increase inflation, and the maximum prices in the Edict were apparently too low.
Merchants either stopped producing goods, sold their goods illegally, or used barter. The Edict tended to disrupt trade and commerce, especially among merchants. It is safe to assume that a gray market economy evolved out of the edict at least between merchants.
And certainly Rome lived for almost 150 years after Diocletian. However the long term effects of Diocletian’s economic program were dire:
Thousands of Romans, to escape the tax gatherer, fled over the frontiers to seek refuge among the barbarians. Seeking to check this elusive mobility and to facilitate regulation and taxation, the government issued decrees binding the peasant to his field and the worker to his shop until all their debts and taxes had been paid. In this and other ways medieval serfdom began.
Have the 2008 bailouts done the same thing, cementing a new feudal aristocracy of bankers, financiers and too-big-to-fail zombies, alongside a serf class that exists to fund the excesses of the financial and corporate elite?
Only time will tell.
Do the bankers with their private jets have to go through the porno scanners and get groped by the TSA?
Comment of the year.
The IRS can invalidate your Passport for taxes owed (or not!)
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I watched the debate. I have never seen Paul Krugman speak. I watched his body language and mannerism, as well as the bug eyed stare. He is not a normal thinker. He seemed a little awkward and geekish.
How can this guy be taken seriously? He didn’t even initially understand Ron Paul’s analogy regarding thr Roman era and debasement.
Actually I think he transfers well to the televised medium; he comes across as a lot less harsh and snarky, in my opinion.
I wish Ron had focused more on an individual issue and reductio ad absurdumed Krugman into oblivion. I would start like such: Professor Krugman argues he believes in markets and freedom. Presumably, he is against price fixing for corn, tomatoes, iPads, and helicopters Ben flies around in because he recognizes that when you fix a price below market level you create a shortage of that good. However, peculiarly, he thinks that the price of money is somehow different. That is, unlike with every other good in which the price is suppressed shortages arise, somehow with the price of money, no ill effects are felt – indeed, things get better! Before getting into the details of why Krugman’s position is absurd, I wish people would dwell on that for awhile, let it sink in. You have shortages for every other good priced below market, but somehow money is different.
The only reason this even becomes an issue is because we use money that has completely made up value, nothing intrinsic about it at all, save the government effectively forcing you to use it via legal tender laws. For example, if cattle were money it would be impossible to price the money below market price – it would immediately lead to an obvious shortage of cows available to borrowers.
Yet because we have these printing presses that create paper, made up, laughing stock money people actually believe the problem of money scarcity has been solved. Yes, the money problem has been solved by PRINTING MONEY out of nothing. Hallelujah! But what’s really going on here? What if the market immediately priced in the new money into prices uniformly across all prices that would have been affected later by the new money. Would the amount of money really increase after the printing?
Not really. In fact, if that money was evenly distributed among everyone and prices went up immediately, then nothing would really change. It would be as if we just added a 0 to everyone’s account. Yesterday you had $1000 and blackberries cost you $2.50. Today you have $10,000 and blackberries cost you $25.00. Other than getting used to the new prices, no one would really care because no one’s purchasing power would be affected. Further, it is as clear as the summer sun in this situation that new money was not added – or more technically speaking, the real money supply did not increase – no relative prices changed.
The only reason it seems that new money was created is because the monetary lag effect that usually occurs. Prices do not adjust immediately to money printing, yet the price of money, since there are more dollars in the banking system, does go down immediately. This lag effect creates the ILLUSION of an increase in money (or an increase in capital / savings) Once prices begin to rise the Keynesian overlords at the Fed decide its time to stop printing money. If they stop printing money completely, the lag effect will gradually decrease until it has no effect. At this point prices will have completely adjusted. This is the time in which one can see clearly, that despite the rise in nominal prices, there was no real increase in money – (just the adding of 0s to prices, for example, relative prices did not change.)
But it’s actually worse than I described. Here’s how the shortage of money is created under interest rates lower than the market rate. As rates are lowered, real savings, not the stuff the Fed prints that looks like savings because of the lag effect, decreases because they get less interest for their capital. So the supply of money actually falls. Then, borrowers, seeing lower rates, want to take on more debt. Now demand increases. Everything seems fine until the inevitable day of reckoning in which the lag effect finally decreases in power or ends. It becomes extremely apparent there was not enough capital in the system to support certain capital-intensive activities. In fact, there’s even less capital than there was before the money printing began. THIS IS THE DEPRESSION – THE END OF THE ILLUSION of having capital that actually doesn’t exist.
Professor Krugman, how can you not see the by fixing the price of money below the market rate that you will create a shortage of money? The result is nothing less than the recurring depressions that you blame the free market for. Oh, what irony.
That’s what I would say.
Actually with the level of inflation of which you speak, I’d say there is a lot of danger of creating a kind of inflationary spiral that takes blackberries far above $25.
Well I tend to agree with you Andrew, as the Reserve Bank of Australia lowered rates by 50 BP’s, so I decided that I would pull my money out of my savings account and buy some hard assets. I guess the fixed rate is below the market rate that justifies me depositing cash which is relent or buying hard assets. I guess there is less money in the system now.
Thank you for that summary.
Greetings from Switzerland!
Greetings from England!
Fiat Money: Explained in less than 4 minutes long
The Broken Window Fallacy- How hurricanes, war, taxes, welfare, green job subsidies, and stimulus don’t actually create jobs.
Excellent videos, thank you for sharing.
The broken window fallacy video is flawed and over simplistic if the implication is that public works shouldn’t be taken on because it takes business away from other sectors. What sheer nonsense. By the logic in the video we should have not created NASA. Roads and interstate highways pay for themselves once you account for the amount of business that will be conducted on them and the decrease in travel time. Roads benefit consumers and businessmen.
Then the video goes on to say that less business will happen in The movie industry (oh boy) and in refrigerator manufacturing. Forget for a moment these are the most frivolous examples – I’m sure this was just a hypothetical – how would anyone get to the movie theater without roads? How would they deliver their fridges?
Roads and highways do not necessarily pay for themselves. Have you already forgotten the “bridge to nowhere”? Private investment is subject to market discipline; public investment is based on a different set of criteria, which may or may not provide a net economic gain.
Ok. Even though I think that is nonsense, the broken window fallacy video is a false analogy, isn’t it? It seems to imply that the U.S. Govt systematically destroys domestic capital in order to prop up new businesses. But that’s not what we do at home; it’s what we do abroad!
The modern reality is that government does infrastructure. That is fine and democratic but we should remember that to some degree government will always misallocate capital. There will always be bridges to nowhere under a government-run infrastructure program. At the same time, it is hard to see a better private model for infrastructure/NASA/etc.
When the private market misallocates capital it is punished through an immediate feedback loop by falling profits and potentially bankruptcy. When the government misallocates capital there is less of a mechanism to stop it. Elections are not instantaneous, there is no continuous feedback mechanism. And a lot of spending is not even known unless you study the budget with a fine tooth comb, and even then millions of dollars of military spending is accounted as black projects and so unaccountable. And many public officials (e.g. Bernanke) are not even accountable to the public.
Nothing is perfect and it all depends on whose running it. If you have a corrupt businessman who can get away with bad business, happens all the time, and still make money how is that different?
“the government issued decrees binding the peasant to his field and the worker to his shop until all their debts and taxes had been paid. In this and other ways medieval serfdom began.” The government has passed a bill revoking passports for those peasants or workers alleged by the IRS to owe $50,000. We can’t have the peasants and workers escaping.
Please keep using this screenname to post these kind of comments. You could be like azizonomics’ MDB….
Didn’t George W Bush pass a law stating that Bankruptcy does not dissolve Consumer debt? And if you have Bankruptcy you can’t get a Passport until the debt is paid? US lawyers, can you assist?
They must have seen the debt collapse coming.
History is repeating.Didn’t they just pass a law stating citizens cannot leave the country if they owe taxes?
That was my point.
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Geat post! That about sums everthing up!
Thanks. Was picked up by ZH and the Daily Crux, so I guess it must have been a good summary. Was hoping Krugman would get asked by Reddit about his views on broken windows today. Guess not.
Hopefully, some of those broken windows will be in Krugman’s office.
I have searched in vain for the most mal-informed Ph. D. (Post-hole Digger) economist, and I think I found him. I’m just glad it only took two hours of my time.
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you know the 2012 election is rigged for Obama. If it looks like he will not get in office, hell declare martial law and be in for the next 15 years to establish the new world order.
what amazes me about all of this is ron paul who seems as a crochety old fool to his detractors is actually a monumental intellect! now i know why i’ve only voted for him for president every election since 1988.
Ron Paul Tzu.
Diocletians’s heirs are alive and well in Italy. They are 1 step ahead of the Fed, the ECB and Krugman. They are bypassing the middleman, increasing the effectiveness of stimulating aggregate demand. Increased inflation increases the velocity of aggregate demand. BUY BUY BUY before it is too late.
There is some perverse irony that some of the worst economic madness of today is in the core of the ex-Roman empire.
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My background was centered in economics and finance. I have a degree in economics and worked as a stockbroker between 1964 and 1991. I am currently retired. The thing that scares me the most is the fact that most of the people that vote in the national election are not educated in economics and business. When 51% of Americans pay zero Federal taxes and are receiving government assistance, they will vote for the liberals to keep the checks coming. If Obama gets another four years, America is finished. We need to stop the crazy spending and cut welfare programs. The economy might get weaker with that policy, but as the saying goes; no pain – no gain. We need change NOW!
Cutting spending now within the present system would be tough, and would probably lead to bigger deficits and more debt due to falling tax revenues. Personally I think the smartest move would be to match any spending cuts (e.g. overseas) with tax allowances for small business (small manufacturing, etc) so that the government is not sucking more money out of the economy than it is putting in (that is the problem Greece is facing), and so the economy can grow at a faster rate than government debt, thus reducing debt-as-a-percentage-of-GDP. I like Paul’s plan because most of his cuts are on waste, and will be matched with tax cuts on productivity. The real welfare cuts (etc) would not begin ’til the economy is organically generating jobs (not least because doing it in this economy would result in riots). I think that is the right approach.
“most of the people that vote in the national election are not educated in economics and business. When 51% of Americans pay zero Federal taxes…”
That 51% includes children, the retired, the sick, non-working mums and people who don’t earn enough to pay income tax. Lots of them pay payroll taxes.
And lets not forget that Red states tend to be net beneficiaries of the govt, while Blue states pay more than they get back.
America’s real problem is that it’s dominated by the very rich, to an extent not equalled elsewhere in the western world. In that way at least, it’s similar to Diocletian Rome. This domination has led to coprporate socialism for wealthy elites, butressed by a coprporate media with a pro-rich message, and paying-the-piper for a pro-rich, rich, political class.
The only reason they’re not as completelly f*cked as Europe is because of the Dollar, their own hydro-carbons, and because their pro rich president is smart enough to listen to the likes of Prof Krugman rather than the austerians.
Workers in the lower wage ranges still pay FICA taxes.
But alas, I wouldn’t be the one to tell you if the 100’s deductions cancel out the FICA taxes for wage earners in the lower brackets.
PS, above reply to Mike.
About that velocity of money graph, you’ll see that velocity and money base equalized themselves out during the QE periods. Since more and more money has been pumped into the banking system velocity has adjusted and stopped rampant inflation and possibly output.
M increased a ton, so V shifted down instead of y going up, it could be worse P could have risen and we could have had stagflation like the 70s Oil shocks.
“illiquid zombie banks” You call (I assume) some banks this as a negative, yet when they hold onto liquidity you also deride them for not loaning out. Can banks catch a break? Or do they do everything wrong?
The debate was a farce, you can’t seriously expect a Nobel Laureate economist to not dominate a presidential candidate can you? It’s impossible for a candidate to be that wise about any economic schools of thoughts, and it would be dumb as well! Presidents have advisers for that sort of thing.
Though, I would really love an Austrian or even hard Neo-classical to debate Obama before the election. If nothing else these debates are uneven but they do get good conversation going, and for that I thank the Pauls
It’s kind of a moot point; don’t want to catch my criticism? Don’t involve yourself in a subsidised crony capitalist industry. The only banks I have any respect for are those who didn’t take bailouts and seeing as the whole system took a bailout, well, that tarnished my view of the entire edifice because the natural market clearing mechanisms were completely sidelined.
By not lending, they have to some degree enabled the Fed to monetise debt in a noninflationary way. Is that good? Well, it has upsides and downsides. It prolongates the existence of a system that I see as fundamentally broken and ultimately unsustainable. It also kicks the can, giving the system some ability to work out a structural shift to something more sustainable. Do I see that happening? Not really; I see the looters merely cementing their power.
“Don’t involve yourself in a subsidized crony capitalist industry” That’s impossible, by starting a bank you automatically become under the hand of the SEC, they interact with the federal reserve. To not take loans and use the Fed would be killer to any bank.
Yeah, to some degree I should hate the game not the player.
Then again, there were plenty of non-PD banks and hedge funds that didn’t take bailouts, many, many, many of which have now gone to the wall. Coming under the FDIC remit is not the same as taking bailout when the ABS on your books go kaput.
And there’s a reason why I’m an independent critic of the financial system, and not a paid-up analyst for a TBTF megabank. Knowledge comes with a choice: support the system, or damn the system. I’ve chosen to damn it.
“you can’t seriously expect a Nobel Laureate economist to not dominate a presidential candidate can you?”
Were we watching the same debt? I think not!
I watched Krugman on Charlie Rose tonight and again I will state that Krugman is right about 95% of what he says, but is woefully wrong about the last 5%.
For instance, comparing the USA circa 1930’s to USA 2010 is not an apples to apples comparison.
1st. Total US government spending as % of GDP in 1930 = 13%
In 2008 = 37%
(Yes, I took All Gov. spending, not Federal and that was BEFORE Obama’s massive spending increases!)
Data from http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/
Now, thats a VERY big difference, isn’t it?
2nd, after FDR’s New Deal was implemented in 1933,he ran deficits at approx. 5% of GDP and growth always came in above deficit spending. I.E. the marginal productivity of debt of Federal debt was POSTIVE! Today, it is negative, BIG TIME.
What! Krugman didn’t talk about these things?
Its funny that Krugman is just NOW talking about us being in a depression. Were the F^%k has he been for 3 1/2 years. What, $5+ Trillion in new debts isn’t enough for him? What, the FED expanding their balance sheet $2 Trillion dollars doesn’t please his Keynesian soul? What about letting the banks hide their BS bad loans? Done! What about the other central bankers around the world? They printed $5 Trillion dollars! But thats still not enough. How about keeping IR at .25. You bet your a$$!
Here is a prediction for the banks and bankers! By fire or by ice, they will get their derrière handed to them. Not the smart ones mind you, but the dipsticks dumb enough to still be hanging around.
Don’t be one. Sell Coke, its safer and the margins are better!
Aziz — It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to comment. First off: Congrtulations on being recognized and picked up as a regular guest post at ZH. Your prose and analysis obviously ring true to many of us who read your posts.
Second: I think your Roman comparison to Krugman is relevant, one of the main differences being the dissemination and availability of information and data to the populace (American population). I feel this situation/difference introduces a “speeding up” of the characteristics and aspects that are comparable between the U.S. and the Roman Empire. After Diocletian, the Roman Empire lasted more than 150 years, as you have said. Based on the advancements in communication technologies and the availability of “truth,” I don’t see this playing our for a century and a half.
I value your opinion and analysis — based on your insight, do you see this as a worldwide contest of currency devaluation? Europe, being what it is as a fiscal union, cannot survive, and once the Euro fails, the dominoes (in my eyes) begin to collapse. Based on my personal investments, i.e. gold and silver, I would value your response.
Oil (crude) running through 106 today leads me to believe the stage is being set for a difficult summer.
Thanks; the thesis I am swayed most by at the moment is not so much the death of the dollar, but the death of dollar-denominated trade. I see much better first-dominoes than the death of the Euro. They have a lot of margin for bailouts and can-kicking. Other places don’t.
The problem with our monetary system is that debt cannot be extinguished, it is only transferred. This causes a system where no equilibrium is reached. It does not clear. Since all of our monetary units are liabilities of a central bank, when I my mortgage The credit created to finance my purchase is satisfied by me transferring a liability of the treasury ensuring the monetary system continues to avoid equilibrium.
Debt can be extinguished by default…
Recently came across your blog and it is a fantastic read. I had written a post on similar lines on U.S. monetary base surging and M2V at record lows.
The artificially low interest rates and easy money has done no good to the masses. It is just an extended bailout program for bankers. And I am really worried about the financial system, which can go bust with even one bank going down under.
Thanks. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.
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Found it interesting that Diocletian tied the folks to their land and shops until all debt and taxes were paid…….kinda like the IRS can now revoke your passport and prevent you leaving the US if you have unpaid taxes (whether contested or not,—–its the call of some IRS beaurocrat!)
Y’all should be moving north…….lowest corp taxes, conservative government ( but not yet conservative enough), the USofA is screwed!
Yes that parallel is quite scary.
I highly recommend:
FOFOA understands what he’s talking about and goes at great length to explain the big danger in little inflaton.
Yeah I read FOFOA. His ideas about the remonetisation of gold (“freegold”) are intriguing, but I doubt they will ever be adopted. Governments love fiat.
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The serfs are also funding the ever expanding rulling class as well.
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“holding onto trillions of dollars as a liquidity buffer….reflected in the levels of excess reserves banks are holding….as well as the velocity of money”
IOeR’s provide higher returns than competing investments. Income velocity is a contrived figure.
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1) Violently execute Paul Krugman for convincing the liberal world of his inane utilitarian policies
2) Realize that real wages have not kept up with inflation since the 1970s. This assumption is at the core of the misconception that inflation “is good for poor people (debtors).” If you are poor but do not have much debt, you can’t do shit to hedge inflation; most poor people do not have trading accounts.
I just hate Krugman’s face. He’s brought on Democracy Now like some kind of oracle. It would be alright if he was a neo-Keynesian prior to 2009ish, and realized that easing monetary policy has diminishing returns once the Federal Funds rate is at 25 bps.
Also, why did it not occur to the money powers to directly bail out homeowners? This would have also bailed out the banks. The government would take a “loss” when housing prices collapsed, but the state is stuck with toxic bank assets regardless.
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I see that the Non Euro Eastern Europe States have an better increase in GDP per capita than USA or Europe. This tells me that the West is declining. I visited the former Eastern Bloc countries and I can tell you they had more general freedoms than the USA and Australia.
Breaking into a church and disrespecting a place of worship by singing profane songs is a crime. It is disrespectful. No matter the political protest. Pussy Riot are criminals. This does not make Russia an evil totalitarian regime. I find it disrespectful that the Western media portrays Pussy Riot as artistic political dissidents.
My money would go further each year in former USSR countries, than it does in the West. This means that the quality of life is improving in these countries.
BillyC’s comment above is correct. With information being shared at the speed of light, collapse will come much sooner.
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