Behind Door No. 1 is inflation. Behind Door No. 2 is deflation. Neither is pretty—however, assures financial counselor and intelligence adviser Rickards (Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis, 2011), one or the other lies in our path.
The thought that the world’s economic systems are doomed to collapse anytime soon might be dismissed as the stuff of the tinfoil-hat crowd. Quickly entering into the realm not of paranoia but of fiscal wonkiness, Rickards examines the many ways this might come about—through financial cyberterrorism, for instance, or simply the unwieldiness of banks too big to fail but that surely will. “Large banks are not necessary to global finance,” he writes, and particularly dangerous to the health of the world economy is their flourishing trade in derivatives, which “serve practically no purpose save to enrich bankers through opaque pricing and to deceive investors through off-the-balance-sheet accounting.” On the matter of off-the-sheet calculations, Rickards notes that the common excuse—that times may be tough but at least we don’t have inflation—is a smoke screen: Allowing for “alternative methods” of accounting, real inflation is probably 9 percent annually, gauged by the prices of milk, bread and other inelastic goods. Rickards rides an old hobbyhorse of fiscal conservatives, namely, the tragedy of our abandonment of the gold standard (under Richard Nixon, of all presidents) and the desirability of readopting it—and real gold at that, and not its derivatives. Though the collapse he foretells will induce chaos, he assures his readers that it is not necessarily inevitable, though avoiding it is unlikely. As he writes in a rare moment of drama, “as the dollar’s 9/11 moment approaches, the system is blinking red.”
A mostly accessible survey of the financial scene. Readers take note: Buy gold, land and art—and hunker down.