Luke Gromen is the Founder and President of Forest for the Trees (FFTT). In this interview, we discuss how governments can navigate the first busting global debt bubble in 100 years. We talk about historical precedents: namely the Weimar Republic in the 1930s and Israel in the 1980s, and how governments may be forced to allow for a compressed period of triple-digit inflation.
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Israel in the mid-1980s faced an existential economic crisis. After a decade of stagnation and rising government expenditure fuelled by money printing, commercial banks started to buckle. Further, the inflation rate was skyrocketing. In 1979 it had reached 111%. By 1984 it had grown to 450%, with fears it could exceed 1,000% by the end of 1985.
Despite the real risk that the sovereign debt bubble may soon burst leading to unprecedented levels of inflation, those in the west have become inured to a belief that very high rates of inflation only happen in developing countries. And yet, the experience of hyperinflation in an advanced democratic country was felt much more recently than most people think. It is important therefore to consider the lessons from Israel’s inflationary crisis of the 1980s.
The policies enacted by Israel to mitigate the situation were socially bruising. Markets were liberalised, government spending was significantly cut, wages were controlled, the Shekel was sharply devalued, and interest rates were raised to punitive levels. The result was a recession in the 1990s with high unemployment. But inflation was tamed. And Israel did not fail as a state.
Nevertheless, the taming of inflation in Israel benefited from various fortuitous factors: high levels of cheap immigrant labour, the technology boom, and the peace process opening up new markets. There aren’t any such obvious pressure-release valves for the west. Furthermore, will those in the West feel as culturally tied to their home nation to stick through such periods of pain?
In essence, is Israel a useful case study, or a distracting aside? We may hope it’s the former. Otherwise, we may be entering a period for which the precedent goes back to the 1920s Weimar Republic. Or, even more worryingly, we may experience a crisis for which there is no historical precedent. Prepare accordingly.