April 21, 2011

Is our current monetary system sustainable?

This is a very complicated topic. I've been thinking about it (and things related to it) for a long time, and I still don't know what to think. I'd be delighted to talk about it for quite a long time - it's important and interesting. Here's some of my thinking - let me know what you think!

Here are my thoughts at this moment:

I think that the last 60 years have been quite exceptional - a real golden age. Can it be sustained? I tend to think so, but there are certainly a lot of risks.

I think the great majority of economists think that "fiat" money is a much better way to manage an economy. If you look at the years 1800-1940, you see a lot of deep recessions, like the one from about 1870-1890, which appear to have been at least partly caused by the gold standard. I think that the "establishment" (central banks, governments, big private banks, most economists, etc) isn't even considering going back to it, and would fight it tooth and nail. I suspect they'll succeed at that fight.

The fact that gold is in limited supply guarantees that under a gold standard periodic deflations will happen, most of them very painful and recessionary. A "fiat" currency can be expanded along with the economy, and a small amount of inflation (maybe 2%) can be maintained to encourage people to keep their money out of mattresses.

Hyper inflations of fiat currencies certainly have happened in the past. The biggest example I know of, Weimar Germany, was caused not by government incompetence or avarice, but more or less by fundamentals: France was taking revenge for the reparations that followed the 1870 war by demanding huge reparations from Germany after WWI, and Germany blew up their currency rather than comply and be impoverished.

The conventional explanation for the large increase in M1 is that the velocity of money dropped dramatically, so that the overall money supply (which more or less depends on "velocity x bank deposits") didn't really expand. That seems to make sense to me. Ufortunately, velocity is very hard to measure, so I'd say that the Fed is navigating by the seat of their pants. I'd say some inflation in the next few years (roughly 3-4%) is a good possibility. On the other hand, wage earners have no leverage at all, so a wage-price inflationary spiral seems very unlikely.

The level of US debt depends on what happens to oil prices and imports. Will we be smart, and move ASAP to hybrids, extended range electric vehicles like the Volt, EVs like the Leaf? Will shale-oil (like the Bakken, not Green River) production expand? We can only hope. Oil imports have dropped by 25% in the last 3 years - if we can keep that up, the US will be much stronger economically.

Regulation of the financial markets is lax, and this laxness caused the Great Recession. I'm afraid we're likely to see future bubbles and blow ups, though I'm not sure where or when. If we could figure that out, we could be rich! On the other hand, we've survived an awful lot of bubbles in the past - see "This time is different - eight centuries of fiscal folly" for proof.

April 2, 2011

How much do batteries cost? - part 7.

I've been arguing for quite a while that battery costs, like the cost of any manufactured item, depend heavily on volumes. That means that any analysis of battery costs depends on the production volume that one assumes.

Here's an article that helps clarify that:

"One carmaker willing to share a number is Coda Automotive, a small California-based electric car startup. Dan Mosher, the company’s chief financial officer, also spoke at Electric Car 2.0. “The $375 price might be fiction, but it’s a fact that the costs are coming down quite dramatically. Today, we might still be around $1,000 to $1,200 per kilowatt-hour,” Mosher said. He expects the price to reach $375 per kilowatt-hour in the next five to 10 years.

Mosher cited advantages that Coda might have, because the company manufactures offshore (in China)—but that benefit pales to the advantage enjoyed by major carmakers. Nissan, by virtue of its joint venture with Japan’s NEC Corp., has decades of experience in mass-producing lithium ion batteries. The company is projecting first year global production of the Nissan Leaf at 50,000 units.

“Can somebody really build a vehicle where they pay $375 per kilowatt-hour in 2010, I would say that’s pushing it,” Duvall said. “What they may see is forward pricing and they know their 50,000th or 100,000th vehicle will have that pricing. There’s no physical reason, based on materials and price of production, why that can’t happen.

See the rest of the article: http://www.plugincars.com/electric-car-battery-costs-don%E2%80%99t-believe-what-you-read.html