Saturday, February 12, 2011

Orwell and "Quantitative Easing:" The First Step to Solving a Problem is Stating it Correctly

Correspondent Brad L. dissects the Orwellian nature of "quantitative easing" as a diversion from the reality: fiat creation.

The First Step to Solving a Problem is Stating it Correctly

By Brad L.

In "1984," George Orwell describes a totalitarian state that employs "newspeak" to enforce its aims. Rather than merely suppressing statements that endanger the ruling party, newspeak constricts the language itself, making dangerous ideas impossible to formulate. This proves to work far better than post-hoc crackdowns on radical speech, inspiring one state functionary, Syme, to exude, "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."

With that in mind, I'd like to explore a problem I see in the current economic debate. The path before the nation in general, and the federal government in particular, is usually framed as a choice between "quantitative easing" and "austerity," and even those who oppose the action represented by the former phrase, and support the course represented by the latter, tend to use these terms as if they truly described the two paths that might be taken.

But of course they don't.

"Quantitative easing" is, linguistically speaking, quite new. The original Japanese expression for "quantitative easing" ryoteki kinyu kanwa was minted in the mid-1990s, and became official Japanese monetary policy after Toshihiko Fukui was appointed governor in February 2003. It did not pass into American parlance until roughly 2005, but in a mere six years, it's a linguistic bestseller - a Google search for "quantitative easing" garners over a million hits.

It's easy to see why the term was pushed vigorously by the forces that support the action it represents. Evolutionary psychology asserts that humans have two basic drives - accumulating resources and minimizing effort. Throughout human history, anyone who could gather real resources without expending much time or energy had a huge survival advantage. "Quantitative easing," has, then, a hugely positive emotional valence, as it embraces the two things humans prize most - quantity and ease.

Of course, in reality, "quantitative easing" offers no such thing. It creates no real resources whatsoever, and whatever "ease" it might provide will be more than counterbalanced by painful side- and aftereffects.

An alternative phrase that policy critics sometimes advance - "money printing" - is, ironically, almost as attractive. The reason is that "money" has multiple meanings, and in the popular mind is conflated with possessions that can be purchased with currency. In other words, at a fundamental level, "money printing" sounds like a pretty good idea - the creation of a real resource with little effort. Sign me up!

So let's be clear. The most accurate description for the action described by "quantitative easing" is actually "fiat creation." Here, the type of money being created is specified - a fiat currency, untethered to any real resource, with no more intrinsic worth than the paper (or electrons) that constitute it. And "creation" reveals the voluntary bringing-into-being of this intrinsically valueless commodity. Using these words makes it clear that there is no imaginary constraint at which the fiat strains in search of "easing," instead, human beings make choices and perform actions to create it.

The fact that the average American has no idea what fiat is, is no excuse for those who do understand it failing to employ the phrase often in writing and speaking. If it is used enough, even Americans can learn a new word.

So use it, please.

Next is the term, "austerity," which is used, in government-budget discussions, to describe spending cutbacks necessary to balance tax inflows to spending outflows. The first-listed synonyms for this term are "harshness," "strictness" and "ascetisim," all of which have a strong negative emotional valence. Absent from these synonyms are any positive results that might come from actions described as austere; the entirety of the word's meaning is unrelieved by any awareness that austerity might have a benefit.

So again, let's be clear. The most accurate description for the set of measures described as "austerity" is expressed by the phrase "living within our means." This expression aligns with the average person's understanding that he or she must personally balance revenue inflows and outflows - even people who don't do this are usually painfully aware that they should. "Living within our means" then, has a positive valence that is hard to over-state - immediately, intuitively, it just makes sense.

Reframing the choices before us from a battle between "quantitative easing" and "austerity" to one between "fiat creation" and "living within our means" is a necessary first step to making the right choices as a culture. If we can't even properly state the problem, we'll never arrive at a solution.

Thank you, Brad, for a concise analysis of the Federal Reserves' "newspeak" propaganda.

Note: I was out of town all last week and have yet to catch up on correspondence. Your patience and forebearance are much appreciated.

If you would like to post a comment, please go to

Order Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation or Survival+ The Primer from your local bookseller or in ebook and Kindle formats.

Of Two Minds is also available via Kindle: Of Two Minds blog-Kindle

Thank you, Damien D. ($100), for your staggeringly generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your support and readership. Thank you, Gantantar N. ($25), for your most excellently generous contribution to this site-- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

Terms of Service

All content on this blog is provided by Trewe LLC for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. These terms and conditions of use are subject to change at anytime and without notice.

Our Privacy Policy:

Correspondents' email is strictly confidential. This site does not collect digital data from visitors or distribute cookies. Advertisements served by third-party advertising networks such as Adsense and Investing Channel may use cookies or collect information from visitors for the purpose of Interest-Based Advertising; if you wish to opt out of Interest-Based Advertising, please go to Opt out of interest-based advertising (The Network Advertising Initiative)
If you have other privacy concerns relating to advertisements, please contact advertisers directly. Websites and blog links on the site's blog roll are posted at my discretion.

Our Commission Policy:

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I also earn a commission on purchases of precious metals via BullionVault. I receive no fees or compensation for any other non-advertising links or content posted
on my site.

  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by 2008

Back to TOP