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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/7550/the-slow-systematic-destruction-of-the-dollars-purchasing-power/

The slow, systematic destruction of the dollar’s purchasing power

December 16, 2007 by

It’s interesting to look the producer price index and consider how extreme and relentless are price increases over time, and it strikes me that the lack of public outcry about this must represent some sort of price-trend acculturation that has taken place. We have come to expect it, the way we expect government to rob us of 30-40% of our income through one means or another.

{ 43 comments }

David St. Hubbine December 16, 2007 at 11:39 am

With all due respect, the problem is not as bad as the chart illustrates. Sure, the dollar is worth a lot less than it used to be, but, everyone gets paid a lot more of them.

Now, it doesn’t equal out, but, if you want to go back to whatever the dollars value was in year X, you have to be prepared to accept wages at year X levels also.

David J. Crouch December 16, 2007 at 12:12 pm

I respectfully submit for your consideration that the chart understates the impact of the inflation that has been inflicted on us by our government and the fed.

In even a semi-free economy with a hard money currency prices would actually decline over time due to productivity gains…ceteris paribus.

Therefore the massive inflation we have experienced has not only resulted in dramatically higher prices for most any type of good an/or service you can think of…it has also stripped us of much of the productivity gains experienced since 1913.

As Bastiat pointed out long ago it is the unseen that often escapes notice.

TimmyG December 16, 2007 at 12:38 pm

When it is boiled down to the least common denominator (minimum wage) anyone can see that our dollar does not purchase as much as it used to.

People who are on Social Security, or who lack enough education to secure a higher paying job are getting much less for their money these days.

Example: For one hour of labor 20 years ago, one could expect to purchase

3 gallons of milk. Today, 1.7.
4.5 gallons of gasoline. Today, 2.

4 packs of Cigarettes. Today, 1.3.

The list is endless, and it is plain to see that what we can buy today, is not equivalent to what we could buy yester-year with the same money.

What are we going to do about it? In this day and age of corporate profits and mass retail, we are unfortunately standing in front of an immovable wall.

Siggyboss December 16, 2007 at 12:39 pm

People will take the punishment so long as the average individual believes it’s NOT worthwhile to immediately buy something to avoid a future price increase. Once the average individual believes IT IS worthwhile you’ll have hyper-inflation, and the currency will be abandoned. Foreigners holding increasing amounts of US dollars helps a lot because it sucks up supply here in the US, which helps mitigate price increases.

David C December 16, 2007 at 12:45 pm

David St. Hubbine,

“if you want to go back to whatever the dollars value was in year X, you have to be prepared to accept wages at year X levels also.”

I’d love that. In 1968, my parents house cost about twice as much as their pay, and my dad was working under the 10K/yr tax bracket. Now a house costs at least 5x pay, unless both parents work – which they didn’t need to do back then either.

However speaking of housing, even more importantly than inflation is who has control over all new investment money that enters into the economy. In a fiat system, all that control is in the hands of the central banker and their cronies (who tend to pump it into things like housing, govt spending, and consumption), in a non fiat one all that control is in the hands of savers, producers, and spend thrifts – who tend to pump it into production, R&D, and infrastructure.

Chui Tey December 16, 2007 at 3:42 pm

There is no destruction of the value of dollar. What is happenning is more basic.

The explorers of the past days used to exchange trinkets for valuable produce from the natives.

The tables have been turned.

The Chinese are now producing trinkets for the exchange of precious resources like oil, gas, milk, corn, fish. The western world gets cluttered with new junk and trinkets like ipods and martha stewarts’ new dish collection.

Kevin December 16, 2007 at 5:23 pm

I think some here are missing the point. It is not that wages are going up with inflation it is that savings are being systematically stolen by the hidden inflation tax. On the gold standard a dollar earned 20 years ago would still by 20 dollars worth of goods today. On the dollar standard you have to spend your money before it becomes worth less and eventually worthless.

Don Lloyd December 16, 2007 at 6:54 pm

Jeffrey,

Your chart misrepresents reality due to the combination of a wide range of data values and a linear vertical axis. You need a logarithmic vertical axis because it is the percentage change over a time period that is of significance. The absolute value of the data is of no significance, only its rate of change.

Regards, Don

TLWP Sam December 16, 2007 at 7:17 pm

” . . .In a fiat system, all that control is in the hands of the central banker and their cronies . . .

. . in a non fiat one all that control is in the hands of savers, producers, and spend thrifts . . .

” – David C

The ‘central banker and their cronies’? In other words, those who print the money. Actually since the gold standard is supposed to the basic alternative to the fiat currency then money creation is given to gold miners.

Brian Pearson December 16, 2007 at 7:22 pm

I was wondering if we should be looking at the world GDP. If so, that would be $66,822,997,000,000 according to the World Bank (and growing). Suppose all of that was backed by gold. So my question: Is there enough gold to back that much money?

Jones December 16, 2007 at 7:47 pm

Sure at $1,000,000,000,000/ounce it would only
take 66 ounces to back the whole world GDP.

PS: GDP is just how much activity there is to
tax. If I push a broom there is no change to
GDP but if I hire someone else to do it
GDP increases. What’s the real difference?

James December 16, 2007 at 8:38 pm

The philosophy of the gold bugs bothers me, and here’s why:

There will only be a certain amount of gold in the world. As the population increases, gold will become harder to come by. Not to mention sharpies who would control and manipulate the gold markets through hoarding and flooding of the market.

What happens when you can’t afford to eat/clothe/shelter your family because gold is unobtainable?

In our current system, as I see it, more money can be created out of thin air, and that allows everybody to have a piece of the action.

Comments?

P.M.Lawrence December 16, 2007 at 8:46 pm

TLWP Sam wrote “Actually since the gold standard is supposed to the basic alternative to the fiat currency then money creation is given to gold miners”.

Precisely because bullion has a relatively low carrying cost, the new supply isn’t very important in the short and medium term; what counts is the stock already around. That means that various real balance effects work as an automatic stabiliser damping down cycles. Over the long term in which new supply matters, new mining is affected by the resources available in the economy – it’s not a simple “how much shall we create” decision as with fiat currency but instead is constrained by the wider economy. Of course you can still get shocks, as when the Macedonians released the bullion locked up in the Persian treasury or when the Spanish opened up new world stocks and sources.

Oddly enough silver connects better with the wider economy in that way than gold, because it is more of an industrial metal and also because about half of production is as a by-product of lead production, also driven by activity in the wider economy.

Brian Pearson December 16, 2007 at 8:58 pm

Fair enough. Maybe I should’ve used “debt” instead. I’ve read that debt=money, anyway, so we would need enough gold, or at least, precious metal, to match it.

P.M.Lawrence December 16, 2007 at 8:59 pm

Oh, looking at James’s query, the processes I just outlined go part way to answering his question – i.e., the processes I described work to undo bullion bears and allow gradual adjustments. It only goes part way because there are still a lot of other things wrong with the economy, market imperfections; fix those too, and subsistence resources would remain accessible in all cases short of a Malthusian catastrophe in which there was literally not enough to go around. But that’s another story (see my publications page and look at the thinking behind distributism and mutualism)

jeffrey December 16, 2007 at 9:32 pm

So you produce a chart showing the raw PPI data, clean and clear, and someone pops up and says oh it’s misleading because it lacks a logarithmic vertical axis. Got to be Don Lloyd.

TLWP Sam December 17, 2007 at 12:50 am

Your reply is more or less what others say to the gold standard. And this happens to be a cringe moment when talking of fiat currency. Namely when more gold enters the (gold standard) system, the miner gets immediate purchasing power and gets goods from those who don’t realise there’s more gold and there’s a time lag between the inflation and when people adjust for inflation. Apparently this would be an acceptable loss presuming gold mining is always going to be rather risky whereas currently the Fed gets to: FILE – PRINT PREVIEW – PRINT… – NO. OF COPIES – PRINT, etc.

P.M.Lawrence December 17, 2007 at 6:07 am

TLWP Sam, there’s a qualitative difference. Sure, “the miner gets immediate purchasing power and gets goods from those who don’t realise there’s more gold and there’s a time lag between the inflation and when people adjust for inflation”, but it’s insignificant compared with what happens with fiat money. Not only does mining hook up better to the rest of the economy (think mining supplies and alternative lines of work), so improving trickle down, but also and more importantly the new supply is so small in comparison to existing bullion stock – unlike the situation with fiat money – that it evens out far better. It’s like releasing water into a lake instead of releasing it into a river; the latter increases flow and the “slope” of the river far more than for the lake. It has nothing to do with riskiness of mining at all; it would still happen if people knew there was a steady supply of alluvial gold arriving in the hills, and that they could always get some as a side job panning at weekends if it was worth their time and trouble.

TLWP Sam December 17, 2007 at 6:24 am

:?

The fate of aluminium shows that gold would suffer the same fate if there was enough of it. It’s well known that large gold acquisitions had the same effect as a huge sudden printing of paper money. It could be said that the Spanish had the equivalent of a printing press with the gold that was coming in from South America. The fact that the Spanish found themselves in the poorhouse afterwards sounds like easy initial spending of hyperinflated money from non-production. Goldbugs are forever hoping that there won’t ever be technology that could extract gold from seawater, lost treasure chests, the Moon, asteroids, or any other source that could reduce gold to a common metal (at least relative to those who want it).

DS December 17, 2007 at 6:46 am

“The philosophy of the gold bugs bothers me, and here’s why:

There will only be a certain amount of gold in the world. As the population increases, gold will become harder to come by. Not to mention sharpies who would control and manipulate the gold markets through hoarding and flooding of the market.

What happens when you can’t afford to eat/clothe/shelter your family because gold is unobtainable?

In our current system, as I see it, more money can be created out of thin air, and that allows everybody to have a piece of the action.

Comments?”

Money is simply a medium of exchange, it creates nothing. The fact that there is only a certain amount of gold in the world creates a permananet reference value for prices of everything else. This has no effect on supply and demand for goods, services and labor. In fact with no inflation interest rates will reflect only the riskiness of the return on any investment, and any incereases in the price of anything will have to be offset by a reduction in price somewhere else.

Only in this environment can business and labor earn what they are really worth. Unfortunately there are large numbers of businesses and individuals that don’t like what they are atually worth, so they lobby the government to manipulate the system in their favor.

With fiat money created out of thin air, the piece of the “action” is had by bankers who get to loan money that nobody earned first and let others suffer the loss of purchasing power down the road. Fiat money most certainly does NOT allow everybody a piece of the “action”, just a piece of paper that is losing value every second they hold on to it.

It is common in these sorts of conversations to get off track by focusing in on the minor shortfalls of gold as if proving that it is not “perfect” somehow means that fiat money is better. All of the minor criticisms of gold become huge, monumental problems with fiat money. Gold, for a variety of reasons, is the best (not the perfect) medium for monetary stability.

Printing money creates no economic growth, no increase in productivity and no increase in the value of labor. All it produces is a temporary illusion of prosperity that always ends with a lower standard of living when the haze clears.

Inquisitor December 17, 2007 at 7:53 am

‘The ‘central banker and their cronies’? In other words, those who print the money. Actually since the gold standard is supposed to the basic alternative to the fiat currency then money creation is given to gold miners.’

Do gold miners just give away gold?

Anyway, I am not sure why such an issue is made out of gold shocks. Their effects tend to be localized and on nowhere as near a systematic basis as those caused by fiat money. So I am not sure why this is even brought up as an issue.

P.M.Lawrence December 17, 2007 at 7:57 am

TLWP Sam, of course gold would share the fate of aluminium if there were enough of it – but that would take major new discoveries of the element or huge new ways of extracting it from poor sources – a “shift”. With aluminium it was reasonably foreseeable that new supplies would come about without a shift; I was careful to distinguish normal bullion standard behaviour from what happened from shifts like that in the past – I deliberately mentioned a couple of occasions. The only currently even faintly realistic way of getting that sort of shift – that is, not requiring as yet unknown areas, “unknown unknowns” – would be by using self replicating, self fuelling autonomous equipment, the equivalent of geese laying golden eggs.

Talking of Spain, people knew perfectly well at the time that they were releasing a stock of bullion (Montaigne mentions it, using the term “furniture”). It is not true that “the Spanish had the equivalent of a printing press with the gold that was coming in from South America” after that initial burst; a generation or so later they had to get bullion from mining (done by natives and slaves, of course), and they mostly got silver, not gold, because of the difficulty of the latter. In fact there is a Spanish proverb saying that to run a gold mine you first need a silver mine to pay for it. They certainly got through a lot of mercury.

“The fact that the Spanish found themselves in the poorhouse afterwards sounds like easy initial spending of hyperinflated money from non-production” – but it wasn’t. They spent it all on literal empire building, only they didn’t win (oops). The thing is, in those days there wasn’t any way to increase productivity, so the only way to increase revenues was to acquire them from somebody else – conquest. In fact, that was precisely how Spain paid for conquering the New World in the first place, with gains from the Reconquista, in particular from Granada and from expropriating the Jews once it didn’t need them any more.

Now, for really sneaky ways of doing that sort of thing, you use a fiat or part fiat currency, and buy up other peoples’ stuff the way the French did during the Revolutionary Wars and in “peaceful penetration” colonialism, the way the Germans did to Vichy France, or the way the Dutch used debased coinage to set up their “culture system” in the East Indies (and I’ve heard that the same trick was used during the Thirty Years’ War). Funnily enough, what the Dutch did actually did increase production and productivity, although the natives didn’t share in it equitably – so DS is mistaken in writing “Printing money creates no economic growth, no increase in productivity and no increase in the value of labor. All it produces is a temporary illusion of prosperity that always ends with a lower standard of living when the haze clears.” It all depends on what the new money is spent on – and useful opportunities are not only rare, governments rarely find them and the wealth transfers usually mean that more than 100% of the gains go to the winners, leaving net losers (as in the Dutch East Indies).

By the way, hyperinflation doesn’t mean simply very high inflation, although that also happens. It’s when the whole business of pouring in new money at one end overwhelms the ability of the currency to send price signals to control the economy; it’s like supersonic flow, with signals unable to travel “upstream” any more. As well as transferring wealth, the generating of wealth gets compromised.

Roman December 17, 2007 at 10:12 am

“In even a semi-free economy with a hard money currency prices would actually decline over time due to productivity gains…ceteris paribus.”

Agreed. And also one must consider too that today most products and services in general are made with “cheaper” (ie. lower quality) inputs than in past eras. Construction materials, auto components, food, clothes, etc. – platics, “engineered” components, artifical and simulated and man-made materials and fake ingredients have replaced the real thing; with consequent decreases in product life-spans and reliability, safey and health risks. Welcome to our disposable/faux culture! One would have expected price drops of several orders of magnitude, yet in most cases nominal prices have stayed the same! Add that to inflation equation!

Daniel M. Ryan December 17, 2007 at 11:38 am

@James:

In a word, barter.

To expand a bit: if all the gold vanished completely from an area, then barter would commence. Some good would be discovered to serve as a gold-substitute that would be more convenient than any other. This good would take the place of gold money as a medium of exchange. In a nutshell, this thumbnail analysis is the Mises Regression Theorem.

Did you know that, during World War 2 in places where fiat money (scrip) was nowhere to be found, soldiers ended up using cigarettes as a medium of exchange?

GunderDog December 17, 2007 at 2:39 pm

Daniel, James-

I would think that silver or some other rare metal would be the medium chosen by a free market if there was no gold available.

Also, wouldn’t inflation from the increase in gold supply somewhat be off-set by the fact that gold has a use other than as money? Each year, their are x ounces of gold in circulation. If we stopped all gold mining today, the actual supply of gold in circulation would shrink somewhat because people are holding it as jewelry, decorations, and even in some industrial uses. If the value of gold really went up significantly people would melt their wedding rings, but still I think that fact that is has value independent of being the medium of exchange would be a drag on inflation (which, as mentioned previously, would be insignificant compared to the FIAT system, unless there is a huge discovery along the lines of the new world again).

GunderDog

To Don Lloyd December 17, 2007 at 4:47 pm

Mr. Tucker did not creat this chart, it is taken from the St. Louis Fed website at: http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/PPIACO?cid=31

Brian Pearson December 17, 2007 at 11:00 pm

According to this, our current system of money is unsustainable. The video — 47 minutes long — includes a history of money, building up to how our current system works. It illustrates how debt eventually grows to the point where it cannot be sustained. It also points out the above-mentioned problems with “hard” currency. It does have a suggested solution, though I’m not knowledgeable enough to evaluate it.

Björn Lundahl December 18, 2007 at 2:03 am

I wouldn’t take that video too seriously as the author in the same video series (video number 4) wants extensive government regulation and socialism. Really quite silly “suggestions”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPmZBfBx53Q

Björn Lundahl December 18, 2007 at 2:17 am

My comment was aimed at Brian Pearson.

Mark December 18, 2007 at 7:58 am

I am from Canada, and I find this site extremely interesting. Needless to say, my eyes have been opened to the fact that I live in a socialist state.

There seems to be faults to both sides of the gold standard argument. I assumed the gold standard would be regulated by supply and demand. If there are more people in the world, and the gold supply does not increase atthe same rate, wouldn’t that lead to price appreciation?

I would think a fiat system be the best method, as long as we had someone responsible handling it? Perhaps Ron Paul?

mark December 18, 2007 at 8:27 am

First off, if you read the chart correctly it indicates that there is not that much inflation. The slope is just made to look that way on first appearence.

The science of economics is flawed because it can not make a distinction between a trinket and a loaf of bread.

The things we most require to sustain life at the most basic level at some point reaches dimminishing marginal returns. You can only grow so much food on an acre of land. The increases of productivity for doing so will only be marginal.

However, productivity for increase production of trinkets such as movies, new music cds and computting power can in fact go up much higher then the increase in the money supply.

fundamentalist December 18, 2007 at 12:15 pm

Mark: “If there are more people in the world, and the gold supply does not increase atthe same rate, wouldn’t that lead to price appreciation?”

It would lead to the appreciation of the value of gold, or depreciation of the prices of other commodities and services.

Mark: “I would think a fiat system be the best method, as long as we had someone responsible handling it?”

It depends on the economics of the people controlling the currency. If they’re Austrians, it wouldn’t be so bad. But since you can never be certain that an Ausrian would be in charge, a gold standard would be the best trade-off. A gold standard isn’t perfect, but no system is. However, if you compare the record of the years with a gold standard (mostly the 1800′s) and those without (most of the 20th century), it’s clear that a gold standard produces the least amount of volatility in interest rates and business cycles.

In addition, price inflation caused by increases in the money supply transfers wealth from the poor to the wealthy, because wages rarely keep up with price inflation. And monetary inflation starts the business cycle that hurt the working and poor during the downturn as they face job layoffs.

A gold standard would not produce optimal results; it is a defensive strategy that limits the damage caused by monetary manipulation. But no sane person would argue that the fiat currency of the 20th century has produced optimal results either, and it offers no defense against central bankers who follow faulty economic theories.

The best thing that could happen to world economies would be for the oil producing nations to demand payment in gold. That would effectively put us on a gold standard.

Yancey Ward December 18, 2007 at 12:50 pm

Two thing:

(1) Don Lloyd is correct- a logarithmic scale would match the actual effect with the visual impact of the graph. For example, the change from 50 to 100 is greater than the effect of going from 100 to 150, but a linear scale assigns the change as being equal as far as visual impact goes. A minor point, I grant.

(2) I can’t really offer much that adds to P.M. Lawrence’s astute comments, but I would like to address TLWPSam’s comment. Yes, gold miners are adding to the supply of monetary metal in a gold standard, and as such, they will get the first use of the additional supply, but there are two important differences between miners and central bankers: Firstly, miners only get use of the net value of their mined gold- a net value that is much less in the present world than that obtained by printing paper or creating digits in an electronic account- it takes a lot real resources to mine and refine gold. Secondly, gold is just another commodity- the value gold miners can purchase with their mined gold is really no different in kind from the value copper miners can purchase with their product; it is just that the two metals have different uses. Should gold mining ever reach the point where it could be mined like iron, for example, then I suspect society will move to some other monetary commodity that provides a more constant base.

Reformed Republican December 18, 2007 at 2:27 pm

What is needed is not a gold standard, but a free market in money. As long as there are no legal tender laws forcing people to use a certain money for contracts, then people will be free to determine what is the best money. If it is something other than gold, that is what we would see.

M E Hoffer December 18, 2007 at 8:18 pm

“What is needed is not a gold standard, but a free market in money. As long as there are no legal tender laws forcing people to use a certain money for contracts, then people will be free to determine what is the best money. If it is something other than gold, that is what we would see.”

I think this is correct, let the market will out.

“Mark: “I would think a fiat system be the best method, as long as we had someone responsible handling it?”

don’t we have to be careful of the old saw about power, and absolute power?

billwald December 20, 2007 at 12:15 pm

People forget that gold was origionally used as medium of exchange only because it was convenient. Other people used beeds or shells. Now that we have double entry booking and electronic exchange physical stuff is no longer convenient.

One possible factor that is never mentioned is that some Christians think that gold and silver constitute “Godly” money because that was the money system mentioned in the Bible. It was God who established the first metallic money system.

Kevin B December 20, 2007 at 1:40 pm

“One possible factor that is never mentioned is that some Christians think that gold and silver constitute “Godly” money because that was the money system mentioned in the Bible. It was God who established the first metallic money system.”

Meh, I wouldn’t go that far. The Bible also says that the love of money is the root of all evil, often degenerating into “money is the root of all evil.” If gold is money, then it is something to be afraid of loving, which cancels out any sort of godliness as far as Christians go, in my humble opinion.

Brian Pearson December 22, 2007 at 6:48 pm

It seems, no matter what we use for money, we’ll still have lenders and borrowers. And, when money is lent, money is created. I’m not clear on how the created money is backed by whatever it is we use for money. If there are not enough beads and shells, what then? Also, the total debt tends to rise faster than assets. Would debt be constrained by what he use to back money?

Inquisitor December 22, 2007 at 7:35 pm

How is it created? It comes from the pool of savings, at least in the case of 100% reserve systems.

fundamentalist December 22, 2007 at 8:46 pm

billwald: “People forget that gold was origionally used as medium of exchange only because it was convenient.”

That’s only partially true. Gold held its value well because of its scarcity, so it made a good store of value. The most important attribute of money is that it won’t lose its value over time. At one time iron was more vlauable than gold, and might have made a good money, but iron processing methods developed quickly and its value dropped.

billwald: “One possible factor that is never mentioned is that some Christians think that gold and silver constitute “Godly” money…”

I’ve been a fundamentalist Christian for 40 years and never heard that one before.

Brian: “And, when money is lent, money is created.”

Not necessarily. That’s true today, but it wasn’t always true and it doesn’t have to be true today. Lending can come strickly from savings if banks don’t practice fractional reserve banking. Without fractional banking, no new money is created.

Brian: “I’m not clear on how the created money is backed by whatever it is we use for money.”

Nothing backs the US$, but that’s not as important as whether the money loaned comes from savings or is created out of thin air. De Soto’s book on banking really clears up a lot of these issues.

Brian: “If there are not enough beads and shells, what then?”

Any amount of money is sufficient for the economy to run smoothly, because prices will adjust to the supply. So there is no such thing as not having enough money. When people say there isn’t enough money, they mean that interest rates are higher than they would like them to be and more money would lower rates. But people have no inherent right to borrow money when they want at the interest rate they want.

Brian: “Also, the total debt tends to rise faster than assets. Would debt be constrained by what he use to back money?”

The theory behind a gold standard is that gold backing limit the supply of money, but it doesn’t if fractional reserve banking is allowed.

Brian Pearson December 23, 2007 at 9:15 pm

Is government borrowing bigger than that of citizens? Government borrowing, there is no fractional banking involved as far as I know. I’m not sure which is larger, borrowing by citizens or by government. But if government borrowing includes borrowing in order to pay interest, then maybe that’s a distinction without a difference.

Chui Tey March 30, 2008 at 6:29 pm

fundamentalist: “because prices will adjust to the supply.”

Although prices may adjust, this is deflationary, and leads to gaming where people hoard cash in expectation that prices fall.

I believe that ideal cash ought to represent a store of true value, and should preserve some of the properties of real goods, i.e. it costs money to warehouse grain, grain spoils. In a zero inflationary or deflationary environment, there is no incentive for banks to store physical goods.

fundamentalist March 31, 2008 at 8:05 am

Chui Tey: “Although prices may adjust, this is deflationary, and leads to gaming where people hoard cash in expectation that prices fall.”

There is nothing wrong with hoarding cash in difficult times. People should be free to do what they think is best for them. Hoarding will take place only as long as the deflation in prices lasts, which will end when the money supply stabilizes. Mild, expected deflation is good because it encourages savings without discouraging investment. Damaing deflation is that deflation that happens suddenly and very deeply, as in the Great Depression.

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