The current concern about inflation sadly confirms the staying power of bad ideas, in this case the notion that economic growth creates inflation. The Phillips curve, which posits that there is a tradeoff between inflation and unemployment, has long been discredited by events and academic research.
Since Ronald Reagan became President in 1981, for example, the U.S. has had a fantastic expansion, and inflation virtually disappeared until recently. Yet the media are full of stories and pundit head shaking that global capacity for producing goods could soon run out.
There is still astonishing confusion between price changes that reflect normal supply and demand and those that reflect monetary blunders. Moore's Law says that the real price of computing power decreases 50% every 18 months. That's productivity, not deflation. When prices for a hot rock concert soar, that's not inflation, it's demand. However, when the cost of living in the U.S. and elsewhere sharply rose in the 1970s, it was, as the late Milton Friedman never tired of pointing out, the result of excess money creation.
Central bankers finally began to grasp that inflation was indeed a monetary phenomenon, but the lesson still hasn't stuck. Investors need to realize that monetary misfires have political consequences, usually bad.
The 1970s led to a malaise in the U.S., which paved the way for Jimmy Carter's election as President. He gutted our military; undermined the shah of Iran, which led to the current hideous Iranian regime; and engendered a passivity that emboldened the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan, which in turn fueled the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Interest rates rocketed, and the stock market tanked. The only good to come out of that period of inflation was a push for the deregulation of our trucking, railroad and airline industries.
This inflation, thankfully, is very mild compared with the last one, but it could well lead to political mischief in the form of protectionism and higher taxes.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Here is Steve Forbes on Protectionism, and appropriate to the last post on Vietnam and Carter's foreign policy advisor, some on Carter's economic policies in, you guessed it, Forbes: