Negative Interest Rates: A Delusional Concept Beyond Space and Time

At the time of this writing, the notion of Negative Interest Rates are being pushed forward by central banks throughout the world. Bankers are developing new and improve ways to help stimulate the economy, and the employment of negative interest rates is the latest tool in the banker’s tool kit. Why the use of negative interest rates? How does it actually help the economy?(If it actually does) With this article, it will explore some things that make this concept of negative interest rates against reality. Keep in mind, an entire treatise can be written just on the notion of interest rates.

What Is the Interest Rate?

The non economist(and some mainstream economist) think the concept of the interest rate is exclusively related to the money and finance. There is some truth to this claim. Yes, interest rates are used in the world of finance, for example, loans to obtain a home, cars, or other fixed assets. Most will see the interest rate in these transactions as the “cost” of purchasing the underlying asset.

However, the origins of the interest rate does not begin in the world of Finance. It starts in the world of Economics. One of the forerunners of the development of the concept of the interest rate was Eugen Bohm Bawherk. His critique of Karl Marx’s work(Exploitation theory) lead to an expansion of the interest rate, and subsequent thinkers such as Knut Wicksell continued the development of this notion.

The fundamentals of the interest rate is straight forward: It is all directly related to human action. All behavior is purposeful. Since humans are unable to be in multiple locations in space and time, this means certain actions are done before others. This explicitly means there is a preference in ranking of preferred actions. For example, if three items are preferred, the first item, the second, and the third must be done in order temporally. The utility ranking(as this is called) simply is a preference ranking of the activities the actor chooses to engage. Of course, this example is given for simplicity, as this process is much more dynamic and there are many more options. Nonetheless, the ranking still exists, and due to the constraints of space and time, some items are done now(in the present) others in the later(in the Future).

The interest rate is derived from the economic actors choosing goods in the present versus the future. The prices of those goods–ones purchased in the present versus the ones in the future. That net ratio is the actual “interest rate”. The other consideration: This “interest rate” is unique to each individual. It is subjective to the individual’s preferences, as each person’s utility ranking varies.

Since each person’s utility ranking varies, and the interest rate is unique to each individual, how is it possible for the Central Bank to calculate the overall interest rate? It can not.

The Folly of the Negative Interest Rate

The interest rate, as it is based on present and future transactions, makes the outcome a positive integer. This is the first thing that makes the negative interest rate fallacious. Moreover, in consideration of how man moves through space and time, time travel going backwards in time is not possible. Having a negative interest rate implies the economic actor is moving backwards in time, and currently is choosing things in the past over things in the future. This is nonsensical. Back to the first point, if we take two prices of the same good, a current price versus a future price, how would that yield a negative number? One of those prices, in our ratio, would need to be a negative. Do Vendors sell goods with negative prices?

Vendors with Negative Prices

If vendors(firms) sell goods(currently or in the future) sell goods for a negative price, this would yield a negative interest rate. This also is absurd. The vendor is seeking to sell his goods at the highest price possible, and the consumer is seeking to purchase those goods at the lowest price possible. The optimal point of this scenario is the equilibrium price; this price is not a negative integer. Also, the business owner needs to earn a profit on the sale of his goods. The profit serves several purposes: (1) It allows the owner to cover his expenses to repurchase more goods to sell, (2) The net profit(revenue less expenses) acts as a return on his investment; this is adjusted against the interest rate. Having a negative interest would imply no prices, or no positive integers acting as prices, and the consumers would be receiving the goods plus extra cash(acting as a credit). This also works against the incentives of human action.

Negative Prices

Prices serve as signal callers in the marketplace. They allow both buyers and sellers to realize if there are changes occurring. For example, if prices rise sharply, this could indicate a scarcity issue with that certain good. Perhaps something along the supply change is impaired, causing a delay in the distribution or manufacturing of that good. Note: sharply rising prices will not detail why the food’s price has risen. Based upon that sharply rising price, the consumer can choose to re prioritize his utility preferences and elect to choose a viable substitute, at a lower price, or opt out of buying the good. With this activity, the increased prices discriminate against those who are willing to pay the increases price versus the group of persons who seek to pay for those goods a lower cost.

How would a negative price come into play? If goods became scarce, the owner would not lower the price to the point he give the goods away for free AND provide additional monies to the consumer. The business owner would not stay in business very long. Eventually, consumers would run out of those goods.

Conclusion

As bankers adopt negative interest rates, it simply is a move from the sublime and into the land of folly. Consumers pay for goods with positive integer prices, and firms accept their cash with positive integer prices. This directly correlates into a positive interest rate. Moving interest rates to zero or in the negative simply has a negative impact on the economy, and it should be rejected as a means of monetary policy.

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