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The Insider’s Economic Dictionary: H Is for Half-Life

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Posted on Nov 24, 2013
Arenamontanus (CC BY 2.0)

By Michael Hudson

This piece first appeared at University of Missouri, Kansas City economist Michael Hudson’s website.

Half-life: In physics, the time it takes for half the mass of a radioactive element to decay into the next-lower isotope or element, typically ending in a stable and inert element such as lead. By extension, the time it takes for an economic theory or ideology to lose half its influence, e.g. as Marxist value theory, Henry George’s Single Tax, Keynesian income theory, Chicago School monetarism, or most recently, neoliberalism. In international relations, the time it takes for an industrial creditor nation to dissipate half of its economic advantage and free lunch.

Have-nots: People who have debts instead of wealth.

Hubris: A Greek term meaning overgrowth or proliferation, an addiction to power involving abusive behavior toward others, above all by victimizing people economically, typically as creditors. By extension, the belief that one is above the law or can get away with their abuses, e.g. as in the corporate scandals that saw Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken at Drexel-Burnham, Bernard Ebbers at WorldCom, and numerous Enron executives sent to jail for their outrageous personal greed. (See Wealth Addiction.)

Hyperinflation: A price-rise caused by a chronic balance-of-payments deficit that obliges countries to increase the money supply. Currency depreciation precedes and exceeds the monetary increase and domestic price rise as central banks throw domestic currency onto foreign exchange markets in order to raise the money to pay foreign debts. Originally a wartime phenomena during Britain’s Napoleonic Wars, the most notorious examples occurred in Germany after World War I as a result of its reparations debt, and later by indebted third-world countries seeking to finance their trade deficits and ensuing foreign debts. The process can be stopped either by new borrowing (as in the case of the Dawes and Young Plans for Germany in the 1920s, or IMF and World Bank loans today), or by a Clean Slate declaring a moratorium on foreign debts or limiting the debt service to the country’s ability to pay.


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