Why the Bezzle Matters to the Economy
Comment of the Day

December 23 2021

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Why the Bezzle Matters to the Economy

This article by Michael Pettis for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

First, the bezzle represents recorded or perceived wealth that does not exist as real wealth (productive capacity), and as such it boosts collective recorded wealth above real economic wealth. This discrepancy gooses GDP growth in at least three ways. One way this happens is that bezzle creates a temporary wealth effect that boosts consumption and investment spending to a level higher than where either normally would have been. A second way is when part of this false wealth shows up either as higher income or higher profits for the entity that benefits from the boost in recorded wealth. A third way is when rising market values collateralize increases in borrowing that are then used either to raise prices further or to increase spending. It is not a coincidence that GDP growth rates are always higher than expected in periods during which a great deal of bezzle is being created.

Second, the reverse is true when the bezzle is directly or indirectly recognized and amortized, as it must eventually be. One or more sectors of the economy (households, businesses, local governments, farmers, or banks) must absorb the loss. As they do, the wealth effect reverses, their lower earnings or profits are reflected in lower-than-expected GDP figures, and they are forced to pay down the debt. Just as it is not simply a coincidence that bezzle is created mainly during economic booms, nor is it a coincidence that it tends to be recognized during economic downturns or financial crises.

Third, bezzle creation seems to be systemic. There are periods, in other words, when it seems that the operation of the financial system errs toward creating bezzle, and these times always seem to be followed by periods in which the bezzle is automatically wrung out of the system.

Fourth, as Galbraith especially pointed out, the bezzle has a self-reinforcing impact on growth in either direction. When it is being created, the illusion of wealth tends to reinforce growth and encourage the creation of more bezzle. When it is being amortized, it tends to inflict additional costs of financial distress on the economy, especially to the extent that it was financed by debt.

Eoin Treacy's view

I find discussion of the bezzle in valuations a useful way of thinking about how the wealth effect is produced and eventually reverses. The Japanese property bubble or China’s property/infrastructure bubble both fit neatly into those terms with the boom and bust of property markets making relatable backdrops for discussion.

Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top