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Old 09-15-2011, 05:37 PM   #141
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But I have a problem reconciling goods inflation with a lack of wage inflation and credit creation. In this environment, won't higher prices just cause demand destruction, forcing prices down? Seems unsustainable.
It is unsustainable. In an environment where there's no pressure to drive up wages, and plenty of surplus production capacity, about the only items that can raise prices are those with inelastic demand, like food and energy. (Oh, hey, look what just went up...)

That's why I had to resort to the magic handwave to inflate costs:
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We could inflate the costs of goods sold, by pushing more money into circulation. (Cash tucked in mattresses or Treasury bills doesn't help, as it's not chasing goods in the marketplace.) The econo-speak for this would be increasing the velocity of money.
It's a one time spike if the velocity of money doesn't stay up. Since the workers can't reasonably be expected to get a pay raise, we can't get a good old fashioned inflationary spiral fired up. The higher prices on inelastic demand goods like food and energy divert buying from other goods, demand drops, there's more idle production capacity and maybe some layoffs, and prices 'deflate' back to the original level.
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Old 09-15-2011, 05:58 PM   #142
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Absolutely true.

The working assumption many of us have is that we can't get a generalized inflation without also having wage inflation. Too many dollars chase all things, including workers.

Recently we have experienced an issue of commodity price inflation. I think that is largely due to international growth and is not reflective of U.S. monetary policy (except to the extent that some countries - namely China, but others as well - have outsourced their monetary policy to the Fed). But inflation at both headline and core levels have been running hotter than I would have thought given the other cool economic readings.

Unless wages also inflate, this other inflation adds to the problem rather than addresses it.

But I have a problem reconciling goods inflation with a lack of wage inflation and credit creation. In this environment, won't higher prices just cause demand destruction, forcing prices down? Seems unsustainable.
Wages do rise, and track inflation, but only skilled labor. Unskilled labor falls behind. This is probably one reason avg real wages are falling over time in the US. Inflation would reduce the debt overhang if a substantial part of consumer debt is owed by skilled labor. I've seen no statistics on outstanding mortgage debt by income tier but I would guess it would be substantial.

Inflation might effectively delever the economy but it would crush pensions and savers. The outcome would likely be an economy with ever greater inequality than we have now.
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Old 09-15-2011, 09:45 PM   #143
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I shouldn't have posted because I'm not really sure what this thread is about, and that's always a bad sign. Kinda like the roads in West Virginia - forever winding all over the place.
My sensibilities tell me to stay away from this, ummm, enlightening discussion but unfortunately it is like a train wreck that is harder to avert the eyes from than not to at this point - hopefully this is the last reference from me to Vizzini in this particular train wreck. We have officially gotten out of the winding roads of West Virginia but have somehow ended up in the high desert of Pahrump with talk of space aliens and whatnot as the Black Knight from Monthy Python continues to defend his little stream despite having lost both his arms and legs.

"You have a dizzying intellect..." - Dread Pirate Roberts to Vizzini

1) This discussion apparently began last year with a modest enough reference to Krugman and his annoying smugness. Fair enough - the Bearded One knows that being a polarizing figure has made him both famous and wealthy so he runs with it. The trouble here is that a commenter actually suggested that Krugman's thesis that massive federal stimulus for the US economy has been successful by pointing out that we have low interest rates - "Krugman was right!" is the claim. Krugman argued his Keynesian belief that massive stimulus would shift the supply function and that the demand function would follow such that we have higher employment, higher economic output, stable price levels and controlled interest rates. The fact that we have low interest rates in the US suggests anything but the fact that fiscal policies have been successful here, of course - in fact, they are a repudiation of fiscal and economic policies as investors believe things are so bad that they would rather take the nil interest/guaranteed principal promise of Uncle Sam than to invest it anywhere in the World.

After 2.5 years and $4 Trillion (the latter amount referenced by poster ClifP - I stopped counting after $3 Trillion) of various federal stimulus actions we are today perilously close to a double-dip recession and unemployment is greater than 9% (7.6% in Jan 2009). $4 Trillion is also approximately $20K for all breathing adults - not merely the productive ones, but ALL - from the ages of 18 to 62 (Social Security eligible) which is clearly a lot of money by anyone's standards so if the argument is that the recent massive stimulus wasn't massive enough then give us a ballpark idea of how much more - even a bad plumber would do that.

Is it truly crazy to argue that $4 Trillion should be enough to get us at least some positive feedback in the economy? If the opposing viewpoint would argue that we need more stimulus then I will remind them that you are risking other people's money which should never be forgotten.

2) Somehow the discussion evolved from simply debating whether Krugman was correct into a stream of consciousness which argues that not only does the Keynesian "liquidity trap" exist, but also how to solve it! Conveniently, the solution is to - queue the drumroll! - print and inject more money into the economy!

Keynesians believe that liquidity traps exist when people make the apparently unconscionable and irrational decision to hoard cash during times of deep recession like today. Keynesians then argue that since the Demand for Money curve is somehow flat during these occasions that the Fed Govt must print so much money that you, me, Sarah and Brad will be effectively compelled to jump off the flat Demand for Money curve and quickly run to the mall to buy Nike shoes, iPads and fine leather attachť cases while stopping at the Food Court for lunch - you know, before our cash becomes worthless.

The obvious problem with this theory is that this pretty and shiny thing called Gold exists in this world as insurance against Fed Govt foolishness. You, me, Sarah and Brad will keep our cash in the bank when we believe that fiscal and economic policies from our Fed Govt are so bad that the risk of making a positive return by investing it is simply too risky. If, however, the Fed Govt then attempts to shake the money out of our hands by considerably devaluing our money then you, me, Sarah and Brad will run to the mall...to buy Gold jewelry, while perhaps still stopping for lunch at the Food Court.

The economy will grow if you, me, Sarah and Brad invest the money in companies and projects that are productive. Printing so much money with the threat of devaluing our cash will not compel us to invest in the Vanguard Total Stock Index nor will it compel us to go out and buy shoes or widgets. If a "Third Party", who sometimes goes by the name of "Uncle Sam", decides to devalue the currency with the intent to make Brad buy Sarah's wazoos or for Sarah to buy Brad's gizoos each will do what you or I would do - raise the price on Brad or Sarah and run to the jeweler to clear out the jeweler's Gold with the sales receipts before the other one gets there first. The first one there will intuitively understand that they will be out of their inventory and own Gold versus holding worthless "Third Party" currency.

We will be convinced to part with our cash or Gold in times like today when we are convinced that our potential return on investment is substantial enough to justify parting with our cash or Gold. The Fed Govt hiring people to dig holes, printing more cash, etc. are not things that are going to convince us that investment opportunities are thusly created. The "liquidity trap" theory presumes that you, me, Sarah and Brad are stupid - so stupid that we would do such an irrational thing like keeping cash safe until the world situation clears up. Here is a novel concept: Reduce the corporate tax rates and see how fast Sarah and Brad are running to their nearest stock broker to purchase the Vanguard Total Stock Index. This money will then go directly to corporations that are in the business of making profits - unlike some Third Party that is out buying gidgets, whozits, whatzits - which will be a lot easier when their tax rates are lower.

Japan's Corp tax rate is approx 40%. The US Corp tax rate is 35%. The Chinese Corp tax rate is 25%. If the Japanese and Americans are mired in "liquidity traps" perhaps they should try the crazy concept of lowering their Corp tax rates to a level that even a Communist Govt deems acceptable before trying the lucid approach of giving all citizens $20K to thoughtlessly spend, no?!
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Old 09-15-2011, 11:04 PM   #144
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Keynesians believe that liquidity traps exist when people make the apparently unconscionable and irrational decision to hoard cash during times of deep recession like today.
From the preceding discussion, I gathered that the Keynesians were appealing to people's rationality. Could you please give a reference for these economic decisions being "unconscionable and irrational"? Who said that?
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Old 09-15-2011, 11:43 PM   #145
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First of all people digging holes make roads that exist for improved transport of goods a payoff benefitting all for years to come. The salaries the hole diggers get lead to people buying engagement rings, weddings, flowers, houses, car seats, minivans all of which have to be produced, moved and sold all of which require employees earning salaries all of which end up buying engagement rings, etc. etc. This also increases govt revenues... But as Krugman predicted correctly the original stimulus was too small remember it was over one third middle class tax cut- a fact conveniently ignored by conservatives begging for my tax cuts) so it was not $800b in stimulus, but 2/3 that at best. And it did prevent a depression. Meanwhile the opposition wanted to let the auto industry die- which would have created HUGE job losses across many sectors... And the money used to save that industry is already repaid.
Finally anytime someone complains about US Corp taxes they are either lying or misinformed... The effective rate on corps avg around 24% no matter what the book rate is...it's like hotel rack rates... Few pay that. And The top corps like GE pay less like... Oh what is that round number with the circle called? Oh yeah ZERO! ZERO percent Corp tax. ZERO. PERCENT. They paid nothing in fed corp taxes. please -The Big lie about Corp tax rates is one of the most blatant Propaganda campaigns of all time. That lie needs to be stamped out not repeated here if there is going to be an honest discussion on tax reform.
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Old 09-15-2011, 11:58 PM   #146
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From the preceding discussion, I gathered that the Keynesians were appealing to people's rationality. Could you please give a reference for these economic decisions being "unconscionable and irrational"? Who said that?
Mahalo.

Fair enough, I sense that you are not a dogmatic person. I suppose that we can try a deductive argument approach:

1) Keynesians believe in changing the irrational and unconscionable economic behavior of citizens.
2) The hoarding of cash by citizens in times of economic distress is irrational and unconscionable economic behavior.
3) Therefore, Keynesians will attempt to change the irrational behavior by citizens of hoarding cash in times of economic distress.

The bottom line is that if hoarding cash during times of economic and political distress is rational behavior, then why would Keynesians believe in forcibly changing that behavior: Either the cash hoarder is rational or the Keynesian is rational, but logic dictates that both cannot be rational since one party is attempting to change the behavior of the other. IMO, and apparently the opinion of many others out there that are parked in safe investments and Gold, it's eminently rational behavior today to remain in safe and liquid investments such as cash and Gold but the premise of the "liquidity trap" theory is that it is either irrational or, worse yet, perhaps evil to the broader economy. "Liquidity trap" theory promotes the penalizing of those who would remain in cash during times of economic and political distress through various devaluation methods to compel spending and investment. I believe that Govt should instead promote policies which increase the viability of investing my cash instead of devaluing it in the hopes of making me spend it.
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Old 09-16-2011, 12:25 AM   #147
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Mahalo.

Fair enough, I sense that you are not a dogmatic person. I suppose that we can try a deductive argument approach:

1) Keynesians believe in changing the irrational and unconscionable economic behavior of citizens.
2) The hoarding of cash by citizens in times of economic distress is irrational and unconscionable economic behavior.
3) Therefore, Keynesians will attempt to change the irrational behavior by citizens of hoarding cash in times of economic distress.
I was asking about grounds for your 2), which is a premise of your argument above. Even if your 3) does follow from 1) and 2), that does not help to establish 2).
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... Either the cash hoarder is rational or the Keynesian is rational, but logic dictates that both cannot be rational since one party is attempting to change the behavior of the other.
I can't follow that. What logical principle could dictate such a thing?
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Old 09-16-2011, 07:19 AM   #148
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Meanwhile the opposition wanted to let the auto industry die- which would have created HUGE job losses across many sectors... And the money used to save that industry is already repaid.
Really? http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-me...can-taxpayers/

And since when is someone with a different political view from you "the opposition"??

I am sure another $3 trillion or more in stimulus for non-infrastructure spending will only raise the unemployment rate to about 11% or so............
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Old 09-16-2011, 07:53 AM   #149
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And since when is someone with a different political view from you "the opposition"??
Since always.
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Old 09-16-2011, 08:00 AM   #150
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Inflation does not solve a debt overhang problem for an economy, it just determines who will end up footing the bill.
True inflation transfers value from creditors to debtors. Whether it solves the problem depends on what the problem is. If the problem is that debtors can't deleverage because creditors won't dis-save, as we outlined in detail a couple of posts back, than transfering value from creditors to debtors, by inflation or some other means, absolutely solves the problem.
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Old 09-16-2011, 08:36 AM   #151
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Since always.
And we wonder why bipartisanship is a dead end..........
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Old 09-16-2011, 09:01 AM   #152
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True inflation transfers value from creditors to debtors. Whether it solves the problem depends on what the problem is. If the problem is that debtors can't deleverage because creditors won't dis-save, as we outlined in detail a couple of posts back, than transfering value from creditors to debtors, by inflation or some other means, absolutely solves the problem.
I got your post and understood the story about Sarah and Brad. My point was that in real life inflation does not make the problem go away, it just makes someone else pay. Because most prices and wages rise, it is an illusion of prosperity or recovery.

Inflation is entirely possible in the US and it might help to reduce the consumer debt overhang, but I think there are deeper structural issues and debt is a consequence, not a driver, of these issues.
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Old 09-16-2011, 09:08 AM   #153
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Last night I was thinking about this subject... and we keep getting examples of the last depression and WWII etc... but never was there and answer to the most recent example of stimulus...

So, one question that seems to go unanswered by the folks who would like stimulus.....

Why has it not worked in Japan


This is our most recent example... let's not go so far back in history where foreign workers did not make that much of an impact in a countries GDP... where companies could not offshore their work so easily... where money did not move at lightning speed... lets look at the last few decades and see what has happened...
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Old 09-16-2011, 09:09 AM   #154
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I got your post and understood the story about Sarah and Brad. My point was that in real life inflation does not make the problem go away, it just makes someone else pay. Because most prices and wages rise, it is an illusion of prosperity or recovery.

Inflation is entirely possible in the US and it might help to reduce the consumer debt overhang, but I think there are deeper structural issues and debt is a consequence, not a driver, of these issues.
We agree that inflation reallocates slices of the pie. Where I'm losing you is if the current allocation is a growth constraint, how reallocating to remove that constraint doesn't solve that problem.

Whether there are other structural issues (I imagine you're talking about balance of payments issues, but you don't say) they should be addressed too, but that doesn't make removing the consumer debt overhang irrelevant.
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Old 09-16-2011, 09:20 AM   #155
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Why has it not worked in Japan
I haven't studied Japan enough to say. I do know that Japan is not the U.S. Their business and banking systems are different, their demographics are different, their employment policies are different (they never experienced 9.1% unemployment, for example), their approach to bankruptcy is different . . .

Demographics are a huge part of Japan's riddle. And while I don't normally like to link to stories about research (preferring instead to link directly to the research) here's an article about the work (conservative) economist Tyler Cowen has done suggesting that the difference between Japan's growth and that of the U.S. is entirely a function of demographics.

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In non-population adjusted figures, Japan's real GDP grew by 26% in total these years [1990-2007], the lowest in the OECD. In comparison the figures are 63% for the U.S and 44% for the EU.15.

But during this period the U.S saw its potential labor force (the number of people between 15-65) increase by 23% and the EU.15 by 11%, while Japan had a decrease of 4%.

Between 1990-2007, GDP per working age adult increased by 31.8% in the United States, by 29.6% in EU.15 and by 31.0% in Japan. The figures are nearly identical! Japan has simply not been growing slower than other advanced countries once we adjust for demographic change.
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Old 09-16-2011, 09:27 AM   #156
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We agree that inflation reallocates slices of the pie. Where I'm losing you is if the current allocation is a growth constraint, how reallocating to remove that constraint doesn't solve that problem.

Whether there are other structural issues (I imagine you're talking about balance of payments issues, but you don't say) they should be addressed too, but that doesn't make removing the consumer debt overhang irrelevant.
When the value of the debt declines due to inflation the problem goes away for the homeowner. The pensioner who lent that money, however, now may not have enough to live on due to lost purchasing power. If the saver was a thrifty individual and the consumer an overspender, the wrong patterns of behaviour have been reinforced. The economy is not necessarily better off.
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Old 09-16-2011, 09:34 AM   #157
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Last night I was thinking about this subject... and we keep getting examples of the last depression and WWII etc... but never was there and answer to the most recent example of stimulus...

So, one question that seems to go unanswered by the folks who would like stimulus.....

Why has it not worked in Japan
Stimulus was working in Japan. When the economy began to recover the deficit spending was cut and taxes raised. This caused a premature end to the recovery and pushed Japan back into recession.
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Old 09-16-2011, 09:37 AM   #158
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When the value of the debt declines due to inflation the problem goes away for the homeowner. The pensioner who lent that money, however, now may not have enough to live on due to lost purchasing power. If the saver was a thrifty individual and the consumer an overspender, the wrong patterns of behaviour have been reinforced. The economy is not necessarily better off.
For this to be a factor, savers and borrowers in the economy need to be equally constrained. While it's easy to envision this on an individual basis (the fixed income pensioner) it's harder (impossible?) to envision on an economy wide basis.

If we go back to the example of Brad and Sarah, we see that Brad's consumption isn't constrained by his income. It can't be. He's got extra income to lend. If he didn't, there would be no demand for bonds.

One thing we do not suffer at the moment is inadequate demand for bonds.
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Old 09-16-2011, 10:01 AM   #159
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For this to be a factor, savers and borrowers in the economy need to be equally constrained. While it's easy to envision this on an individual basis (the fixed income pensioner) it's harder (impossible?) to envision on an economy wide basis.

If we go back to the example of Brad and Sarah, we see that Brad's consumption isn't constrained by his income. It can't be. He's got extra income to lend. If he didn't, there would be no demand for bonds.

One thing we do not suffer at the moment is inadequate demand for bonds.
Demand for bonds would fall once inflation expectations picked up. A decade (or two) ago US consumption moved ahead of real earnings using home equity as a base for credit. Now that debt is holding back the US. After inflation, neither borrower (the consumer) nor lender (the bank) pays - but the pensioner (the investor) does. Serial inequality.

When consumer debt is caused by excess consumption and then inflated away the consumer is not punished for this behaviour and goes on to repeat it. Overall consumption needs to fall back in line with personal income or the consumer needs to increase real earnings to sustain the consumption. There is no easy or painless way out of this mess. It is more a question of who will pay.
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Old 09-16-2011, 11:35 AM   #160
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Demand for bonds would fall once inflation expectations picked up.
Which is exactly what we want.

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When consumer debt is caused by excess consumption and then inflated away the consumer is not punished for this behaviour and goes on to repeat it.
Viewing economics as a morality tale often leads us to wrong conclusions. Market economies have one function, to allocate resources. As much as some would like to think otherwise, their purpose is not to reward the virtuous and punish the wicked. Often times the wicked succeed and the virtuous fail. The economy doesn't care.

If only the indebted suffered, one could make the argument that doing nothing was just. But that isn't the case. As just one example, the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is at the highest level since the 1970's. 22 year-olds didn't cause this problem, and yet they suffer. And they'll continue to suffer if we pretend that the economy is dolling out justice, when all it is trying to do is allocate resources in the face of a broken pricing mechanisim.

My thoughts are that we need to fix the economy by fixing the pricing mechanism.
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