Tobold's Blog
Sunday, November 27, 2022
Printing money

I was reading a variety of economic news in the past few weeks: About inflation, about the downgrading of Hasbro, about the bankruptcy of FTX. And it occurred to me that there is a common theme here, the printing of money.

Economic cycles and inflation are a very complex issue, but most economists agree that at least one reason for the current inflation was central banks increasing money supply during the pandemic. That certainly did help to buffer some of the negative economic effects of the pandemic, but when economic activity restarted, an excess of money caused inflation on a global scale. This is typically a case of unintended consequences: While it is known that printing money can lead to inflation, there isn't actually a formula that will tell a central bank by how much exactly they can increase the money supply without inflation going over the target rate. We can assume that central banks wanted to do what was best for the economy, and then just overshot the target. A central banker has no personal gain from printing money, they can't just print money for themselves.

That is somewhat different in the case of private companies, like Hasbro. Hasbro isn't printing money (other than for Monopoly), but they are printing Magic the Gathering cards. And Magic cards are supposedly having some value, which is why you can not only print them and sell them, but they are also traded on the secondary market. And the same rules as with printing money apply: If you print too much, the value drops. Hasbro this year printed significantly more Magic cards than usual, causing first the value of the cards, and then the value of their stock to decline. Hasbro was one of those companies who benefited from the pandemic, with more people staying home and playing games. When that trend reversed, and their revenue fell, they tried to increase their profits by "printing money" in the form of more Magic cards. And that seriously backfired.

The situation gets even worse if you look at FTX and crypto currencies. In the early days of crypto, there was a common argument that the limited of supply of Bitcoin would guarantee that the cryptocurrency remained valuable. Bitcoin was seen as valuable because there was no central bank that could print more of it. That concept went out of the window pretty fast: Not all cryptocurrencies have this limitation on printing more, and even if individual cryptocurrencies are limited, the fact that there are now a growing number of different ones make the overall supply unlimited as well.

From all we know, FTX repeatedly printed more of their own cryptocurrency, FTT, to buy stuff. When people found out that the liquidity FTX said to have wasn't real, but basically self-printed Monopoly money, the whole edifice collapsed. So the issue of printing money has different forms, from honest mistakes, over questionable business decisions, to downright scams. You can become a billionaire by printing your own money and persuading other people that this money actually has value. But in the end a Magic card is just a piece of printed cardboard, and a crypto coin isn't even that; if people *think* that these have value, they are valuable, but if they change their mind, they can become worthless.

Government handouts certainly aren't good for inflation but they're not the only factor at play. A global pandemic, a global supply chain relying on goods manufactured in 1 or 2 countries that shut down entirely, "Just in Time" supply practices and good old corporate greed have made this an unprecedented time for inflation.

The scary part is no one truly knows if inflation can even be brought down without triggering worldwide recessions. As a 32 year old millennial my prospects of ever owning a home went from "maybe in the next 5 years" to maybe never unless I relocate.
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