With the global Zero Interest Rate Policy experiment failing, we’re now entering the era of negative interest rates with a quarter of the world’s central banks charging savers.
The world is flooded with money, but we also have surpluses in manufacturing, a surplus in most commodities, of energy and an increasing surplus of labor.
From Shanghai to Barcelona, the surplus of labor is beginning to be felt as industries become increasingly mechanised and the consequences of short sighted economic policies over the last thirty years begins to be felt.
That labor surplus is also driving the political shifts in Europe and North America as workforces are finding their living standards being pressured and their economic prospects dwindling. As a consequence, voters are looking for scapegoats – immigrants in Europe, the EU in Britain and Mexicans in the US.
Regardless of which scapegoat you choose to blame for the global economy’s uncertainty, the fact remains we are in a time where scarcity can’t be assumed.
This means business models that are based upon restricted supply are, in most sectors, under threat. The whole economics of scarcity becomes irrelevant when there are no shortage of suppliers around the globe.
In some fields, such as energy, technological change is seeing the dominant positions of oil companies, electricity generators and distributors being challenged in ways that wouldn’t have been thought possible a few years ago.
Even regulated industries where government licenses artificially controlled supply – like taxis, broadcasting and telecommunications – increasingly new distribution methods are changing the economics of those industries. No longer is buying a government license a sure fire way to big profits.
Right now, the imperative for businesses to find the areas where there is scarcity and supply constraints. For many industries that may be too difficult a transition.
Negative interest rates though take us into uncharted territory. How the global economy responds to virtually free and unlimited money is going to be an interesting experiment.