Inflationary expectations and US economic recovery

On July 3 2012 The Economist raised the issue of whether the Fed can do more to support the US economy given the fact that its policy rate is effectively zero and long-term rates are close to all-time record lows.

Doesn’t additional easing amount to little more than pushing on a string? The Economist is of the view “it doesn’t”. By lifting monetary pumping the Fed could raise inflation expectations, which in turn is going to raise inflation in the present, argues The Economist.

Consequently, this is going to lift the present demand for goods and services. (People will speed up buying at present knowing that goods will be much more expensive in the future). The increase in present demand for goods and services will speed up the pace of economic expansion – so it is suggested by The Economist.

Note that the essence of this way of thinking, which is accepted by most economists including the Fed’s Chairman Bernanke, is that what is required to revive economic growth is to boost the demand for goods and services.

In this way of thinking the scarce factor that prevents economic growth from taking place is the demand for goods and services.

Even if one were to accept that demand is the critical factor, as far as economic growth is concerned, how is an increase in demand going to be funded?

In the real world people pay for goods and services by means of the goods and services they are producing. Hence the more is produced the more goods people can have for themselves in order to support their life and well being.

What permits the increase in the production of goods and services is the availability of a suitable structure of production. To secure such a structure various individuals that are employed in the maintenance and the enhancement of the production structure, or the infrastructure, must be supported.

Various final consumer goods and services that are required to support people’s life and well being must be allocated towards the maintenance and the enhancement of the infrastructure.

Final consumer goods that are allocated towards the making of new tools and machinery (capital goods) are goods that were saved from the previous and the current flow of production of final goods.

If out of the production of ten loaves a baker consumes two loaves, his savings is eight loaves of bread. The baker then can invest these eight saved loaves in the making of a new oven. Whilst the oven is made the saved loaves of bread sustain the oven maker.

In this case eight loaves are allocated, i.e. channelled, towards the making of the oven, i.e. towards the enhancement of the infrastructure, which will permit him in the future to produce more bread.

Observe that failing to allocate final consumer goods towards the production of tools and machinery is going to weaken the economy’s ability to produce goods and services required to maintain people’s life and well being.

So in this sense it is not demand that limits the economic growth but the amount of final consumer goods allocated towards the maintenance and the enhancement of the infrastructure, i.e. what matters is real savings.

On this score if the flow of real savings comes for whatever reason under pressure, this puts pressure on the overall pool of real savings. This in turn, all other things being equal, weakens the flow of real savings towards the production of capital goods and in turn undermines the infrastructure and hence the economic growth.

Irrespective of the state of the demand, if the pool of real savings is in trouble no economic expansion is possible. No Fed tricks regarding inflation expectations can help here.

For instance, an increase in consumption on account of an increase in inflation expectations (in response to loose monetary policy) will only weaken the pool further. This in turn will weaken further the infrastructure and weaken further the economy’s ability to expand the production of final goods and services, i.e. weaken the economic growth.

If boosting demand would have been the key for economic growth then by now most countries in the world would know how to do it and world poverty would have been erased a long time ago. What is scarce is not demand but real savings or real capital.

Contrary to The Economist, the Fed’s loose monetary policy can only damage the foundation of the economy. By pushing money out of “thin air” into the economy the Fed promotes an exchange of nothing for something, i.e. the consumption of capital, thus weakening the economy’s ability to grow.

It must be realized that as long as the pool of real savings is still growing the Fed can create the illusion that it promotes economic growth by the artificial boosting of consumption. (Note an artificial boost in consumption results in unfunded consumption and to the diversion of funding from the production of tools and machinery). Once the pool of real savings is stagnating or declining, the Fed’s ability to create illusion comes to a halt.

To add insult to injury The Economist suggests that if the Fed could pump money without raising inflation then the Fed should be allowed to monetize the government debt. The Economist writes: “If one could entirely monetize the debt with no inflationary consequences why not do it?”

To begin with inflation is not a general increases in prices as the popular thinking has it, but increases in money supply. Irrespective of what the so called price indexes are doing once money supply is expanding, this means we have inflation. If government expenditure is funded by means of printing presses this implies government expenditure is funded by means of inflation.

Once the government spends the newly printed money, this results in the consumption of capital and the weakening of the infrastructure. One only hopes that The Economist realizes that the US government debt stood at $15.8 trillion by the end of June.

Summary and conclusion

The Economist on July 3, 2012 suggested that it is possible to revive the US economy by means of monetary pumping. They believe that  by means of loose monetary policy the Fed could raise inflation expectations. Consequently, people would speed up buying at present knowing that goods will be much more expensive in the future. This in turn would speed up the pace of economic expansion.

On the contrary, we hold that the Fed’s loose monetary policy will lead to the consumption of capital, thereby inflicting damage to the foundation of the economy. Consequently, the ability of the US economy to stage a meaningful expansion will be diminished.

9 Comments

  • Paul Marks says:

    The Economist magazine starts with a “non ideological” approach willing to ditch the free market whenever the pressure is on (this it got as far back as its third editor Walter marry-the-daughter-of-the-boss Bagehot – with his support for bank bailouts and his general “concede whatever it is safe to concede” [“The English Consitution” context Bagehot talking about the demands for government benefits for the poor] attitude).

    The Economist magazine is also (in modern times) stuck with a Irving Fisher (the Yale man astonished by the 1921 bust – but who learned nothing, and was then astonished by the 1929 bust) view of “inflation”.

    To the Economist magazine people “inflation” means a “rise in the price level” – they are unable (or unwilling) to see that any grand increase in credit-money is an “inflation”.

    To this Fisher (and Milton Friedman) view – the Economist magazine adds Keynesianism, “monetary stimulus”, “fiscal stimulus” (and on and on).

    It also has an ideological (in contradiction to its claims to be nonideological) committment to “public servives” (i.e. to the ideology of the Welfare State).

    The Economist magazine reports about the world argueing (no not arguing – ASSUMING) that countries like India adopt “free” education, health care, old age support, income support for the poor…. and then (a few years later) is astonished to report that these countries are getting into fiscal trouble – it never associates the fiscal problems with its own prior advice.

    “How can we convince the Economist magazine people of….”

    We can not.

    They are NOT in favour of “free markets and free minds” as they claim to be.

    The Economist is a statist establishmentarian magazine – we are not going to convince them on any issue of importance.

    As for politics?

    In 2004 they backed John Kerry (then the most leftist person in the U.S. Senate – Barack Obama having not yet been elected) as President of the United States.

    In 2008 they demanded that the Republicans pick John McCain as their candidate. But when the Republicans did just that – the Economist magazine (along with the rest of the media – who had made the same demand) supported Comrade Barack Obama anyway.

    If the Economist magazine supports Mitt Romney this time round (as rumours suggest) that will not mean the Economist magazine has reformed.

    It will just mean that Romney is as close to Jamie Dimon (of J.P. Morgan Chase) and the rest of the corporate welfare crew (the people the Economist magazine really serves) as his enemies say he is.

    If the Economist magazine ends up (again) endorsing Comrade Barack (perhaps because of yet grander promises of corporate welfare – Barack has rather nasty plans for companies in the longer term, but to the Economist magazine in-the-long-run-we-are-all-dead) it will indicate that just perhaps Mitt Romney has (deep down) some decent principles.

    Short Version….

    The Economist magazine (like the Financial Times newspaper) is a useless waste of space.

    Ignore it.

  • Boz says:

    The core truth in Dr. Frank Shostak’s article here is this. He says :

    “In the real world people pay for goods and services by means of the goods and services they are producing”.

    – (these are called jobs)

    “Hence the more is produced the more goods people can have for themselves in order to support their life and well being”.

    – (because they have wages in their pockets and can save a bit after buying essentials. What they save is a store of wealth which can be lent to others to create more jobs)

    “What permits the increase in the production of goods and services is the availability of a suitable structure of production. To secure such a structure various individuals that are employed in the maintenance and the enhancement of the production structure, or the infrastructure, must be supported”.

    – (this translates into ‘do everything possible to prevent unemployment. At all costs keep people working. Never think unemployment is ‘a good thing for the economy’ as some demented economists sometimes think.

    Everyone wants to possess a degree of ‘wealth’.

    The mirror image of the old adage “money can buy anything’ is that virtually everyone wants to work to obtain a suitable degree of wealth. All you have to do is have a means of persuading people to work. This means of persuasion is to give them something they want (money – which is just a means of exchange to enable every kind of trading, instead of using primitive barter) to do something useful for their employer.

    The worker can then take this money he has just been paid for working hard for his employer making something sufficiently useful other people want to buy, and go and spend it on what he needs to buy – and save a bit for a rainy day.

    This simple process is the economy; made to sound immensely complicated by ‘economists’ who make a living interfering in it, talking utter nonsense and causing incredible damage in the process.

    Oh, and just one little thing which might indicate what a pig’s ear ‘economists’ and governments (and bankers !) make of our lives is the simple truth that there are, and always will be, a completely unlimited number of ‘jobs’ out there in the Universe that will always need doing. They are just there for the taking.

    Figuratively speaking, everyone wants a pink Rolls Royce and a yacht; and when they have those, they want their very own spaceship to explore the Universe. And desires like these require lots of workers doing lots of jobs to meet this insatiable demand for ‘wealth’.

    More realistically, there are enough jobs available on planet earth right now to usefully employ every human being willing and able to work towards eradicating ignorance and poverty, war and pestilence, and then to provide comfort and security for every man, woman and child on earth.

    That’s a lot of jobs screaming out to be done by currently unemployed workers who are all out there in their countless millions just waiting in desperation for the opportunity to be able to work both to earn a useful wage for themselves and contribute to the greater good of mankind.

    And when all that is achieved, and it appears there might be fewer jobs around for people to do, fear not. Because a very, very big job indeed looms on Mankind’s distant horizon which will take the monumental efforts of centuries of hard work for millions of people.

    Ultimately, we need to learn how to ensure our long term survival of all the effort already put into our very existence, by escaping the ‘surly bonds of Earth’ to some other home far beyond the Solar system which is remorselessly heading towards it’s own extinction, taking us with it.

    Unless we put a lot of work in – the sooner the better – because it is a very, very, very big job, enough to keep everyone busy for a very long time.

    Guaranteed jobs for all from here to eternity !

    Meanwhile, the reality is that unemployment, war, pestilence and poverty ebb and flow in a choking, filthy tide of ignorance and greed as it destroys everything in it’s path.

    There are enough jobs available for everyone alright. It is just that incredibly stupid people stop it from happening.

  • There is another flaw in “The Economist” argument, not spotted by Shostak, which is thus.

    The Economist argues (to reiterate) that raising inflationary expectations induces people to spend NOW because they thereby get better value for their money. An equally plausible argument is that people keep an amount of money they feel comfortable with (as a hedge against a rainy day, and all that). Hence raising inflationary expectations, far from inducing people to SPEND MORE, will induce them to SAVE MORE so as to keep their stock of money (in real terms) up to their “comfort” level.

    Or in plain English, the advocates of QE haven’t the faintest idea what they are talking about.

    • Paul Marks says:

      Ralph Musgrave you write as if saving was a bad thing – although I may have misinterpreted what you say (if so I apologise to you).

      If people save (not hoard) more (and consume less – which is a part of real saving) then more resources are available for productive investment – for a better future.

      Of course not every investment succeeds – some investments fail and that means some savings are lost (that is the risk that is involved in saving – rather than hoarding). But without investment the future will be worse, not better, than today.

      Indeed the decline of importance of REAL SAVINGS and the rise inportance of the credit bubble (in terms of financing lending) is one of the terrible things of our time.

      I suspect that you agree with that.

      • Robert Sadler says:

        Indeed there is also the possibility of saving without investment, for example purchasing gold coins to keep on hand. This of course is something Keynesians have a problem with as they mistakenly believe that economic growth is driven by consumption rather than capital accumulation.

        • Paul Marks says:

          Robert – I agree that just buying gold (by the way if you buying gold COINS avoid the U.S. Mint they are terrible) is NOT investment (as it does not lead to improvement in capital – factories and so on).

          One can call it saving or hoarding – but investment it is not.

          Even Glenn Beck (the best gold salesman in the 20th century United States – and I do NOT mean that as insult, he honestly and sincerly believes in the product) was always careful to say that buying gold was NOT an investment (because it does not lead to anything in terms of helping build a better economy for the future).

          To Beck and to many other people (including me) gold is more of an insurance policy than investment.

          Of course standard rules apply – if you are buying gold, buy gold (do not get involved in any fancy game playing), and pay up front and in cash.

          If you can not afford a certain amount of gold – then buy less.

          And be prepared for a sudden drop in the price of gold (as anything can happen).

          All the above is also true with silver buying – for which (of course) Putin’s man Max Keiser is the leading salesman.

  • Paul: I was referring to “saving” in the sense of accumulating cash and doing nothing with the cash. That’s what much of the private sector (bank and non-bank) are doing at the moment, and that partially explains the slow recovery.

    That form of saving does not result in accumulation of real assets. It is that form of saving that Keynsians refer to when using the phrase “paradox of thrift”. The paradox is that while thrift is normally regarded as virtuous, it is actually harmful where it results in reduced spending, which in turn results in less employment.

    Robert: Your claim that Keynsians are unaware of the fact that capital accumulation is necessary is absurd. I image the average intelligent ten year old has worked out that capital accumulation is desirable.

    • Robert Sadler says:

      Ralph,

      I take great exception to your suggestion that I was of below-average intelligence as a 10 year old. I may not have known much about capital accumulation but I had significant experience of dining room food exchange markets.

    • Paul Marks says:

      The “paradox of thrift” is one of the many aspects of Keynesianism that are just not true.

      As for unemployment…..

      Long term mass involuntary unemployment can only result from an obstructed labour market (obstructed by government welfare schemes, pro union statutes and regulations, minimum wage government comands, and so on). Preventing the free operation of the labour market (for example preventing a crash in wage rates when an economy crashes due to the bust of a credit money “boom”) will result in mass unemployment – and it will persist whilst the free operation of the labour market is obstructed.

      “Lack of spending” has nothing to do with the matter of long term mass involuntary unemployment.

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