Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. US Housing Market Real Estate Crash The Next Shoe To Drop – Part II - Chris_Vermeulen
2.The Coronavirus Greatest Economic Depression in History? - Nadeem_Walayat
3.US Real Estate Housing Market Crash Is The Next Shoe To Drop - Chris_Vermeulen
4.Coronavirus Stock Market Trend Implications and AI Mega-trend Stocks Buying Levels - Nadeem_Walayat
5. Are Coronavirus Death Statistics Exaggerated? Worse than Seasonal Flu or Not?- Nadeem_Walayat
6.Coronavirus Stock Market Trend Implications, Global Recession and AI Stocks Buying Levels - Nadeem_Walayat
7.US Fourth Turning Accelerating Towards Debt Climax - James_Quinn
8.Dow Stock Market Trend Analysis and Forecast - Nadeem_Walayat
9.Britain's FAKE Coronavirus Death Statistics Exposed - Nadeem_Walayat
10.Commodity Markets Crash Catastrophe Charts - Rambus_Chartology
Last 7 days
Silver Bull Market Update - 7th Aug 20
This Inflation-Adjusted Silver Chart Tells An Interesting Story - 7th Aug 20
The Great American Housing Boom Has Begun - 7th Aug 20
NATURAL GAS BEGINS UPSIDE BREAKOUT MOVE - 7th Aug 20
Know About Lotteries With The Best Odds Of Winning - 7th Aug 20
Could Gold Price Reach $7,000 by 2030? - 6th Aug 20
Bananas for All! Keep Dancing… FOMC - 6th Aug 20
How to Do Bets During This Time - 6th Aug 20
How to develop your stock trading strategy - 6th Aug 20
Stock Investors What to do if Trump Bans TikTok - 5th Aug 20
Gold Trifecta of Key Signals for Gold Mining Stocks - 5th Aug 20
ARE YOU LOVING YOUR SERVITUDE? - 5th Aug 20
Stock Market Uptrend Continues? - 4th Aug 20
The Dimensions of Covid-19: The Hong Kong Flu Redux - 4th Aug 20
High Yield Junk Bonds Are Hot Again -- Despite Warning Signs - 4th Aug 20
Gold Stocks Autumn Rally - 4th Aug 20
“Government Sachs” Is Worried About the Federal Reserve Note - 4th Aug 20
Gold Miners Still Pushing That Cart of Rocks Up Hill - 4th Aug 20
UK Government to Cancel Christmas - Crazy Covid Eid 2020! - 4th Aug 20
Covid-19 Exposes NHS Institutional Racism Against Black and Asian Staff and Patients - 4th Aug 20
How Sony Is Fueling the Computer Vision Boom - 3rd Aug 20
Computer Gaming System Rig Top Tips For 6 Years Future Proofing Build Spec - 3rd Aug 20
Cornwwall Bude Caravan Park Holidays 2020 - Look Inside Holiday Resort Caravan - 3rd Aug 20
UK Caravan Park Holidays 2020 Review - Hoseasons Cayton Bay North East England - 3rd Aug 20
Best Travel Bags for 2020 Summer Holidays , Back Sling packs, water proof, money belt and tactical - 3rd Aug 20
Precious Metals Warn Of Increased Volatility Ahead - 2nd Aug 20
The Key USDX Sign for Gold and Silver - 2nd Aug 20
Corona Crisis Will Have Lasting Impact on Gold Market - 2nd Aug 20
Gold & Silver: Two Pictures - 1st Aug 20
The Bullish Case for Stocks Isn't Over Yet - 1st Aug 20
Is Gold Price Action Warning Of Imminent Monetary Collapse - Part 2? - 1st Aug 20
Will America Accept the World's Worst Pandemic Response Government - 1st Aug 20
Stock Market Technical Patterns, Future Expectations and More – Part II - 1st Aug 20
Trump White House Accelerating Toward a US Dollar Crisis - 31st Jul 20
Why US Commercial Real Estate is Set to Get Slammed - 31st Jul 20
Gold Price Blows Through Upside Resistance - The Chase Is On - 31st Jul 20
Is Crude Oil Price Setting Up for a Waterfall Decline? - 31st Jul 20
Stock Market Technical Patterns, Future Expectations and More - 30th Jul 20
Why Big Money Is Already Pouring Into Edge Computing Tech Stocks - 30th Jul 20
Economic and Geopolitical Worries Fuel Gold’s Rally - 30th Jul 20
How to Finance an Investment Property - 30th Jul 20
I Hate Banks - Including Goldman Sachs - 29th Jul 20
NASDAQ Stock Market Double Top & Price Channels Suggest Pending Price Correction - 29th Jul 20
Silver Price Surge Leaves Naysayers in the Dust - 29th Jul 20
UK Supermarket Covid-19 Shop - Few Masks, Lack of Social Distancing (Tesco) - 29th Jul 20
Budgie Clipped Wings, How Long Before it Can Fly Again? - 29th Jul 20
How To Take Advantage Of Tesla's 400% Stock Surge - 29th Jul 20
Gold Makes Record High and Targets $6,000 in New Bull Cycle - 28th Jul 20
Gold Strong Signal For A Secular Bull Market - 28th Jul 20
Anatomy of a Gold and Silver Precious Metals Bull Market - 28th Jul 20
Shopify Is Seizing an $80 Billion Pot of Gold - 28th Jul 20
Stock Market Minor Correction Underway - 28th Jul 20
Why College Is Never Coming Back - 27th Jul 20
Stocks Disconnect from Economy, Gold Responds - 27th Jul 20
Silver Begins Big Upside Rally Attempt - 27th Jul 20
The Gold and Silver Markets Have Changed… What About You? - 27th Jul 20
Google, Apple And Amazon Are Leading A $30 Trillion Assault On Wall Street - 27th Jul 20
This Stock Market Indicator Reaches "Lowest Level in Nearly 20 Years" - 26th Jul 20
New Wave of Economic Stimulus Lifts Gold Price - 26th Jul 20
Stock Market Slow Grind Higher Above the Early June Stock Highs - 26th Jul 20
How High Will Silver Go? - 25th Jul 20
If You Own Gold, Look Out Below - 25th Jul 20
Crude Oil and Energy Sets Up Near Major Resistance – Breakdown Pending - 25th Jul 20
FREE Access to Premium Market Forecasts by Elliott Wave International - 25th Jul 20
The Promise of Silver as August Approaches: Accumulation and Conversation - 25th Jul 20
The Silver Bull Gateway is at Hand - 24th Jul 20
The Prospects of S&P 500 Above the Early June Highs - 24th Jul 20
How Silver Could Surpass Its All-Time High - 24th Jul 20

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

How to Get Rich Investing in Stocks by Riding the Electron Wave

What’s So Scary About Deflation?

Economics / Deflation Jun 27, 2013 - 05:56 PM GMT

By: MISES

Economics

Frank Hollenbeck writes: When it comes to deflation, mainstream economics becomes not the science of common sense, but the science of nonsense. Most economists today are quick to say, “a little inflation is a good thing,” and they fear deflation. Of course, in their personal lives, these same economists hunt the newspapers for the latest sales.


The person who epitomizes this fear of deflation best is Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve. His interpretation of the Great Depression has greatly biased his view against deflation. It is true that the Great Depression and deflation went hand in hand in some countries; but, we must be careful to distinguish between association and causation, and to correctly assess the direction of causation. A recent study by Atkeson and Kehoe spanning a period of 180 years for 17 countres found no relationship between deflation and depressions. The study actually found a greater number of episodes of depression with inflation than with deflation. Over this period, 65 out of 73 deflation episodes had no depression, and 21 out of 29 depressions had no deflation.

The main argument against deflation is that when prices are falling, consumers will postpone their purchases to take advantage of even lower prices in the future. Of course, this is supposed to reduce current demand, which will cause prices to fall even further, and so on, and so on, until we have a deflation-depression spiral of the economy. The direction of causation is clear: deflation causes depressions. You can find this argument in almost all introductory economics textbooks. The St. Louis Fed recently wrote:

“While the idea of lower prices may sound attractive, deflation is a real concern for several reasons. Deflation discourages spending and investment because consumers, expecting prices to fall further, delay purchases, preferring instead to save and wait for even lower prices. Decreased spending, in turn, lowers company sales and profits, which eventually increases unemployment.”

There are several problems with this argument. The first is that, regardless of how low prices of consumer goods are expected to fall, people will always consume some quantity in the present and in order to do so, they therefore need to spend in the present on investment to ensure the flow of consumer goods into the future. We can see that many high technology products have had brisk demand despite living in a deflationary environment. Apple has been able to sell its latest version of the iPhone, although most people expect the same phone to be much cheaper in six months.

The second mistake with this argument is that it assumes that we base our expectations only on the past. Falling prices makes us anticipate prices to continue to fall. Of course, our expectations are based on a multitude of factors, of which past prices is just one. I am sure that the economists at the Fed are surprised that we did not react to lower interest rates as we did after the dot com bubble of 2001. Human actions simply cannot be modeled as you would the reactions of lab rats in a biology experiment.

A third mistake is that if we are consuming less, we must be saving more. Investment must therefore be higher. Therefore increased saving that can lead to deflation does not reduce aggregate demand but simply alters the composition of demand. The demand for consumption goods will decline, to be replaced with demand for capital goods. If anything, this will lead to growth and more consumption goods in the future, since the economy has more capital to work with.

Growth lowers prices: that is a good thing. The period of the greatest growth in the U.S. during the nineteenth century, from 1820 to 1850 and from 1865 to 1900, was associated with significant deflation. In those two cases, prices were cut in half.

Let me explain this point with a very uncomplicated example. Suppose you have 10 pencils and $10. What is the price of a pencil? It can’t be $2 since we would have pencils that remain unsold, so the price would tend to fall. It can’t be 50 cents since people would have money and nothing to buy. Prices would be bid up. This would lead to equilibrium where pencils would be sold for $1 each. Now suppose we double the amount of pencils, so we have 20 pencils and $10. The price will fall from $1 to 50 cents. Other things being equal, including the stock of money, the price will be cut in half, falling prices here is very positive since our dollars now give us more goods and services. It reflects society’s ability to push out the bounds of scarcity. We can never conquer scarcity, or all prices would be zero, but falling prices shows that we are winning this crucial battle. More goods and services for all is a good thing and deflation reflects this additional abundance.

Now let’s talk about the deflation which causes such fears in so many economists. Suppose the production cost of a pencil is 80 cents. The rate of return is 25 percent. Now suppose people hoard $5 and stuff money in their mattress instead of saving it. The price of a pencil will again be cut in half, falling from $1 to 50 cents. If input prices also fall to 40 cents per pencil then there is no problem since the rate of return is still 25 percent. What economists fear is that input prices are sticky, and don’t adjust to output prices, so that firms produce at 80 cents and sell at 50 cents. This leads to bankruptcies, unemployment, and falling output, so now we may only be producing 8 pencils, which causes more hoarding, more bankruptcies, and so on, and so on. You get the picture. To avoid this, most economists advocate that the government print $5, keeping the price of pencils steady at $1, and avoiding a deflationary-depression spiral in the economy.

Of course, there are also some major problems with this little story. There is always a certain amount of stickiness in both input and output prices. You don’t want to have to constantly renegotiate your salary, nor do you want to constantly check on the hourly ticket price of the latest movie. So what is important is the lag existing between changes in output prices and input prices. If the lag is not long, then the policy solution described above may not be necessary and counterproductive. Also, entrepreneurs survive by forecasting output prices and then bidding for the inputs to be able to make a profit. This would suggest that the lag is probably relatively short.

Also, the printing of money is distortive. When the government adds $5 to the economy, it is not neutral. It initially benefits those that receive the money first, the government and banks, and penalizes the late receivers of the money, the wage earners and the poor. The printing of money and its associated price effect is the reverse of Robin Hood, taking from the poor to give to the rich. These early receivers, the rich, will spend the money in a certain way, altering relative prices in the economy.

Now what happens when the economy improves and people reverse their hoarding? We now have 10 pencils and $15. Other things being equal, prices will rise from $1 to $1.50, unless the government retires the $5 it put into the system. If they do, this will create another round of altered relative prices. The medicine is likely to be worse than the disease.

In a multiproduct world, inflation (including asset prices) from excessive credit growth causes changes in relative prices that induces unsustainable investments, like housing from 2001-2007. Deflation, in the bust phase, is a partial realignment of these relative prices closer to what society really wants to be produced. The printing of money simply interferes with this essential clearing process. The real solution is to end fractional reserve banking and central banking.

Inflation is much worse than deflation because it robs wage earners and the poor. Central banks are the primary cause of inflation and are the main reason for the growth of income inequalities, as the rich get richer and the middle class sinks toward poverty. This income trend has been self-evident and growing since the demise of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 and its replacement with fiat currencies. Central bank power depends on the ability to generate inflation.

This is why central banks have been so generous supporting economic research in so many academic institutions that serve to theoretically justify the central bank’s current inflationary policies. The common fallacy of “a little inflation being good” has been expounded by the media and economists for a reason. Inflation is theft as you sleep, since it robs the value of the dollars in your wallet. Two-percent inflation over 35 years reduces the value of money in your pocket by 50 percent. If anything, evil has a new face; it is called a central bank.

Many times deflation follows a period of central bank inflation. Deflation is part of the deleveraging process that is necessary following such an excessive policy by the central bank. As Austrian economists have always said, “fear the boom, not the bust.” Delaying the deflation by extending the bubble or creating new bubbles by printing more money only delays the adjustment making it much more painful.

The real solution is to end fractional reserve banking and central banking. A world without fractional reserve banking and central banks would be a world of gentle deflation, which should be hailed as indicative of one of mankind’s greatest achievements: the raising of living standards for all.

Comment on this article.

Frank Hollenbeck, PhD, teaches at the International University of Geneva. See Frank Hollenbeck's article archives.

You can subscribe to future articles by Frank Hollenbeck via this RSS feed..

© 2011 Copyright Frank Hollenbeck - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2019 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules