Inflation is caused
Inflation is caused by a cnghae in money supply (where money supply is affected by actual amount of cash issued by the federal reserve, as well as multipliers created by fractional reserve banking and the shadow banking system (hedge funds; investment banks; foreign lending)).In another thread, I listed a bunch of the things that cnghaed money supply in the passed year:- implosion of financial markets and consequential unwinding of leveraged positions, tightening of credit (commercial and retail). This includes everything from panic'd selling on the stock market, reduced lines of credit for consumers.- reduction in housing values, meaning that people could not tap their overvalued homes for equity/loans- Recently, the Fed has started talking about mopping up the excess liquidity as the economy begins to recover. While I'm not sure they'll really be able to do that so long as unemployment is >= 10%, it will be a reduction in money supply if/when they do.On the other hand, we've had significant new money:- Federal reserve buying treasuries, mortgage backed securities and other debt with newly minted cash (The Fed's balance sheet expanded by 1.5 Trillion]. This is real new money, which gets multiplied up by the effects of fractional reserve banking (that is, if reserve requirements are 5%, 1.5 Trillion gets multiplied out as 20 Trillion in money in the economy, assuming it all gets lent out in a recursive fashion)- Fed's loosening: Reduced interest rates for banks; improves spreads and profitability of banks, and should increase risk taking, under normal circumstances.- Government stimulus: TARP, emergency measures, speding bills, cash for clunkers. This isn't new money per say (it's been borrowed by the federal government from investors, including the federal reserve), but it can behave like new moneyThe figuring of all of these loosenings and tightenings are extremely complicated, and I'd doubt even the federal reserve can figure it out authoritatively. They made an educated guess about how much input new cash would be necessary to offset the dramatic reduction in money supply that the deleveraging of the crisis caused. If they guessed right, then the new money should offset the money removed and inflation should remain more or less constant it might bounce in the interim). But if they supplied too much, or aren't able to mop up the excess for political reasons, when the economy starts leveraging up again, then we'll see inflation. Conversely, if they didn't input enough, or mop up too early, then we'll see deflation.Finally, there's the question of the impact of inflation.Inflation decreases the value of money, so inflation ends up hurting those holding cash or equivalents, as well as lenders who will be repaid with a devalued asset. Meanwhile it rewarding borrowers (assuming fixed interest rate, not tied to inflation) who get to pay back their debt with a devalued asset. People who hold assets (gold, commodities, real estate and even stocks (to a lesser extent)) end up preserving their wealth.Who are net borrowers? Most americans are borrowers, many small companies, the federal government etc.Who are net lenders? Rich individuals, larger companies, foreign governments.There's already an expectation for inflation to be around 2-3% in the US in normal times. So some amount of inflation is already expected, tolerated and built in to the calculations of investors. When we experience deflation (as we have to a minimal extent in the past year), then lenders get a windfall because they are making ~3% more than they expected. Conversely, if inflation were to rise moderately, say to 5%, then investors are penalized in a way they perhaps didn't predict (But most investors (except those who are extremely highly leveraged) wouldn't get wipped out if they made 2% less than expected).Though most individuals generally hate the idea of inflation, its actually beneficial to most debtor americans: it makes paying their mortgages, car payments, and other debts easier to do. The most common argument is that we'll experience wage inflation without experiencing labor inflation, but this is bogus. Wage inflation and price inflation cannot remain out of sync for an extended period unless there's a cnghae in the long term demand for employees or supply of employees. So even an individual who is 30% underwater in his home, would get to par after 5 years of 5% inflation. Inflation is also beneficial (at least in the short run) to the government, the largest debtor in the world, who happily (for itself) has its debt denominated in US dollars (as opposed to many 2nd or 3rd world countries). Inflation causes the debt/gdp ratio to go down (as long as the nominal cnghae in debt is proportionally less than inflation on GDP). However, in the long term, a cnghae in inflation rates would affect the reputation of the US as a stable financial market and drastically increase our borrowing costs (Put another way: The US has some of the cheapest borrowing costs in the world, precisely because we have a history of managing our money well. When that history cnghaes, our borrowing costs will go up). Foreign investors would penalize the US, and many businesses might eventually move to other countries to grow in better financial environments. It also causes a moral hazard: it penalizes savers and rewards debtors. This is not a behaviour we should be encouraging: but we already are, since inflation is the defacto norm its just a matter of degree.Banks, and other financial institutions, who are net lenders would be hurt by inflation; though their hurt is relatively gradual and would not necessarily hurt them too much, but would be a damper on their growth for many years. And banks are already in pain. If we hurt banks more, we end of reducing their lending and hurting the overall growth prospects of the economy.If the problem is to get housing prices back above water for the majority of individuals, the options are:1) Widespread mortgage cramdowns2) Cash-for-clunker housing (bail out under-water borrowers with free cash, care of future taxpayers)3) Mass bankruptcies, foreclosures and start anew (this can however become a vicious cycle and can lead to depression).4) Moderate inflation (say 5%) + time and don't care if we piss off our creditors or hurt our future growth prospects.I think everyone agrees we don't want to cause a state of runaway inflation: 10%/yr or higher. This would drastically cnghae the landscape of investing in the US and have major consequences. But I think a moderate increase (say 2-4% higher than we were before the crisis) in inflation can be tolerated, though not without any side effects. To me, option #4 seems to be the least painful solution, does not punish a large proportion of the electorate, does not appear to be a reward to people bad with money (though it is) and is a solution that can occur without a direct bill or obvious government involvement (who don't know what they are doing, anyways) Rate this comment: 0 0
Last edited by Nick; 04-20-2014 at 05:46 AM.