Most people associate ‘inflation’ with rising prices, but the disease goes much deeper than that. Inflation is a phenomenon wherein money becomes so abundant it disrupts relative price formation and hence interferes with the vital transmission of information about the state of the countless interactions of supply and demand, plenty and scarcity, which take place on the market. As the fever rises, mistakes accumulate, conflicts intensify, timings clash, finances become stretched, and coherence is lost. A rising price is one thing. Prices -plural- rising at varying speeds and in an ever less predictable manner is a much more dangerous pathology.
Though a lot of hot money was poured into the trade in the last quarter of 2020, there is still much reluctance on the part of economists – always prone to a spot of Under-consumption fallacy – to wholly embrace the idea that prices are beginning to rise and that the path ahead is likely to be an inflationary one. That path will inevitably not be smooth, nor its ascent uninterrupted, but it is hard to see where we slow the climb or take a different turning – or even that sufficient will exists to choose that alternative were it ever to come up on our satnav.
Markets seem happy for now to focus on the carrot of a vaccine while ignoring the stick of the further severe restrictions to life and liberty being implemented while we await its delivery. Whether or not it offers a release from bondage, the state’s rediscovered taste for authoritarianism will, however, take some good time to dispel, while its corollary – the move toward taking an ever greater role amid the wreckage of the private economy – is being pursued with relish. Whatever the sloganizing, this is very unlikely to Build anything Back Better – only dearer and scarcer.
With the latest CBO estimates for the US Federal budget for August just in, we are again in a position to take stock of the scale of the burden which the COVID-19 lockdowns and more general restrictions have imposed upon the nation’s finances. It does not make for happy reading.
As a sort of Keynes-manqué, Stephanie Kelton’s moment in the limelight is being granted her for much the same reason as was that of her more illustrious predecessor: she is telling free-spending politicians what they always want to hear – viz., that their habitual incontinence is statesmanship of the highest order.
With our good professor never missing an opportunity to remind anyone and everyone that her book – a veritable almanac of economic hocus-pocus – tops the non-fiction charts (surely a gross miscategorization if ever there was), we must therefore re-emphasize our view that the REAL peril of Magic Money Tree economics – aka MMT – is what it means for the private sphere in general and the scope for genuine entrepreneurship in particular, NOT whether it causes prices to rise or not. The question is one of liberty, not inflation; real prosperity, not growth.
A recent Wall St Journal article gave vent to a scare-story full of Underconsumptionist claptrap, carried under the catchy headline: “The Coronavirus Savings Glut”. Ironically, and only a day later, the paper ran a second piece entitled “How Coronavirus Upended a Trillion-Dollar Corporate Borrowing Binge and Kicked Off a Wave of Bankruptcies
While politicians anxiously check the shifting weather-vanes of public opinion and scientists squabble over facts as well as interpretations, central banks are resolutely doing what they do best – wildly exceeding their briefs and trying to drown all problems in a flood of newly-created money. As ever, the underconsumptionists worry that a lack of demand will usher in deflation, in spite of all such efforts. Some of us, however, worry more about what it will do to supply. Here, we explain why.
The poster girl of the voguish crankdom that is Modern Monetary Theory (“MMT”) – Stephanie Kelton, has been out pimping her new book – “The Deficit Myth” – with a great deal of help from the unofficial PR department which she seems to have, nestled within the House Organ of Davos, the execrable FT.