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This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s (1960s) Inflation Scare

This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s (1960s) Inflation Scare

inflation image 1

“This reminds me of the late 1960s when we experimented with low rates and fiscal stimulus to keep the economy at full employment and fund the Vietnam War. Today we don’t have a recession, let alone a war. We are setting the stage for accelerating inflation, just as we did in the late ‘60s.”
Paul Tudor Jones

As soon as the GOP followed its long-promised tax cuts with damn-the-deficit spending increases (who cares about the kids, right?), you knew to be ready for the Lyndon B. Johnson reminders.

And it’s worth remembering that LBJ pushed federal spending higher, pushed his central bank chairman against the wall (figuratively and, by several accounts, also literally) and eventually pushed inflation to post–Korean War highs.

Inflation kept climbing into Richard Nixon’s presidency, pausing for breath only during a brief 1970 recession (although without falling as Keynesian economists predicted) and then again during an attempt at wage and price controls that ended badly. Nixon’s controls disrupted commerce, angered businesses and consumers, and helped clear a path for the spiraling inflation of the mid- and late-1970s.

So naturally, when Donald Trump and the Republicans pulled off the biggest stimulus years into an expansion since LBJ’s guns, butter and batter the Fed chief, it should make us think twice about inflation risks—I’m not saying we shouldn’t do that.

But do the 1960s really tell us much about the inflation outlook today, or should that outlook reflect a different world, different economy and different conclusions?

I would say it’s more the latter, and I’ll give five reasons why.

1—Technology

I’ll make my first reason brief, because the deflationary effects of technology are both transparent and widely discussed, even if model-wielding economists often ignore them. When some of your country’s largest and most impactful companies are set up to help consumers pay lower prices, that should help to, well, contain prices.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

An Inflation Indicator to Watch, Part 3

An Inflation Indicator to Watch, Part 3

“During the 1980s and 1990s, most industrial-country central banks were able to cage, if not entirely tame, the inflation dragon.”
—Ben Bernanke

Ben Bernanke began his oft-cited “helicopter speech” in 2002 with a few kind words about his peers, including the excerpt above. Speaking for central bankers, he took a large share of the credit for the low inflation of the 1980s and 1990s. Central bankers had gained a “heightened understanding” of inflation, he said, and he expected the future to bring even more inflation-taming success.

Of course, Bernanke’s cohorts took a few knocks in the boom–bust cycle that followed his speech, but their reputations as masters of inflation (and deflation) only grew. Today, the picture he painted seems even more firmly planted in the public mind than it was in 2002, notwithstanding recent data showing inflation creeping higher.

Public perceptions aren’t always accurate, though, and public figures aren’t the most reliable arbiters of credit and blame. In this 3-part article, I’m proposing a theory that challenges Bernanke’s narrative, and I’ll back the theory with data in Part 3. I’ll show that it leads to an inflation indicator with an excellent historical record.

But first, let’s recap a few points I’ve already discussed.

The Endless Tug-of-War

In Part 2, I said inflation depends on a tug-of-war between purchasing power (on the demand side) and capacity (on the supply side), and the war takes place within the circular flow, in which spending flows into income and income flows back to spending. Two circular-flow patterns and their causes demand particular attention:

  1. When banks inject money into the circular flow in the process of making loans, they can boost spending above the prior period’s income, thereby fattening the flow (or the opposite in the case of a deleveraging).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

An Inflation Indicator to Watch, Part 1

An Inflation Indicator to Watch, Part 1

“Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.”
—Milton Friedman

Have you ever questioned Milton Friedman’s famous claim about inflation?

Ever heard anyone else question it?

Unless you read obscure stuff written for the academic community, you’re probably not used to Friedman’s quote being challenged. And that’s despite a lousy forecasting record by economists who bought into his Monetarist methods.

Consider the following:

  • When Friedman’s strict Monetarism fizzled in the 1980s, it was doomed partly by his own forecasts. Instead of the disinflation the decade delivered, he expected inflation to reach 1970s levels, publicizingthat prediction in 1983 and then again in 1984, 1985 and 1986. Of course, years earlier he foresaw the 1970s jump in inflation, but the errant forecasts that came later left him wide open to a “clock twice a day” dismissal.
  • Monetarists suffered an even harsher blow in 2012, when the Conference Board finally threw in the towel on Friedman’s favorite indicator, removing M2 from its Leading Economic Index (LEI). Generally speaking, forecasters who put M2 in their models are like bachelors who put “live with mom” in their dating profiles—they haven’t been successful.
  • The many economists who expected quantitative easing (QE) to wreak havoc on inflation are, of course, on the defensive. Nine years after QE began, core inflation remains below the Fed’s 2% target, defying their Monetarist beliefs.

When it comes to explaining inflation, Monetarism hasn’t exactly nailed it. Then again, neither has Keynesianism, whose Phillips Curve confounds those who rely on it. You can toss inflation onto the bonfire of major events that mainstream theories fail to explain.

But I’ll argue there might be a better way.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What A Cashless Society Would Look Like

What A Cashless Society Would Look Like

Calls by various mainstream economists to ban cash transactions seem to be getting ever louder, while central bankers have unleashed negative interest rates on economies accounting for 25% of global GDP, with $5.5 trillion in government bonds yielding less than zero. The two policies are rapidly converging.

Bills and coins account for about 10% of M2 monetary aggregates (currency plus very liquid bank deposits) in the US and the Eurozone. Presumably the goal of this policy is to bring this percentage down to zero. In other words, eliminate your right to keep your purchasing power in paper currency.

By forcing people and companies to convert their paper money into bank deposits, the hope is that they can be persuaded (coerced?) to spend that money rather than save it because those deposits will carry considerable costs (negative interest rates and/or fees).

This in turn could boost consumption, GDP and inflation to pay for the massive debts we have accumulated (leaving aside the very controversial idea that citizens should now have to pay for the privilege of holding their hard earned money in a more liquid form, after it has already been taxed). So at long last we can finally get out of the current economic funk.

The US adopted a policy with similar goals in the 1930s, eliminating its citizens’ right to own gold so they could no longer “hoard” it. At that time the US was in the gold standard so the goal was to restrict gold. Now that we are all in a “paper” standard the goal is to restrict paper.

However, while some economic benefits may arguably accrue in the short-run, this needs to be balanced in relation to some serious distortions that could rapidly develop beyond that.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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