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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

Credit Diverts Production

Government “encouragement” to business is sometimes as much to be feared as government hostility. This supposed encouragement often takes the form of a direct grant of government credit or a guarantee of private loans.

The question of government credit can often be complicated, because it involves the possibility of inflation. We shall defer analysis of the effects of inflation of various kinds until a later chapter. Here, for the sake of simplicity, we shall assume that the credit we are discussing is noninflationary. Inflation, as we shall later see, while it complicates the analysis, does not at bottom change the consequences of the policies discussed.

A frequent proposal of this sort in Congress is for more credit to farmers. In the eyes of most congressmen the farmers simply cannot get enough credit. The credit supplied by private mortgage companies, insurance companies or country banks is never “adequate.” Congress is always finding new gaps that are not filled by the existing lending institutions, no matter how many of these it has itself already brought into existence. The farmers may have enough long-term credit or enough short-term credit but, it turns out, they have not enough “intermediate” credit; or the interest rate is too high; or the complaint is that private loans are made only to rich and well-established farmers. So new lending institutions and new types of farm loans are piled on top of each other by the legislature.
The faith in all these policies, it will be found, springs from two acts of shortsightedness. One is to look at the matter only from the standpoint of the farmers that borrow. The other is to think only of the first half of the transaction.
Now all loans, in the eyes of honest borrowers, must eventually be repaid. All credit is debt. Proposals for an increased volume of credit, therefore, are merely another name for proposals for an increased burden of debt. They would seem considerably less inviting if they were habitually referred to by the second name instead of by the first.
We need not discuss here the normal loans that are made to farmers through private sources. They consist of mortgages, of installment credits for the purchase of automobiles, refrigerators, TV sets, tractors and other farm machinery, and of bank loans made to carry the farmer along until he is able to harvest and market his crop and get paid for it. Here we need concern ourselves only with loans to farmers either made directly by some government bureau or guaranteed by it.
These loans are of two main types. One is a loan to enable the farmer to hold his crop off the market. This is an especially harmful type, but it will be more convenient to consider it later when we come to the question of government commodity controls. The other is a loan to provide capital—often to set the farmer up in business by enabling him to buy the farm itself or a mule or tractor, or all three.

Economics in One Lesson

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