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Friday, July 18, 2014

Rebuttal of Krugman's inflation critique

Paul Krugman is an annoying person. He is annoying because his entire modus operandi is attacking neo-conservative idiots on the right, whilst ignoring his own shortcomings. His short comings arise from his:
1. Gross ignorance about economics as a compartmentalised irrelevant economist
2. Engagement in straw arguments, or false dichotomies between left and right when the real game is the ascension of libertarianism.

Liberals love this game because it keeps them 'self-important'. The world will not miss Paul Krugman. He will fade into obscurity. But before he does, lest we be criticised for attacking the man without argument, let us focus on his arguments for asserting that there is no inflation, and that its not coming. Well, in truth, he is 'right'....yes 'right' in a sense, and wrong in a sense. There is bugger all 'cost-of-living' inflation. The problem with his arguments is:

1. Krugman does not understand inflation
Krugman thinks inflation is a 'cost-push' phenomenon caused by excess demand for goods and services. He thus celebrates the lack of demand for goods evident in the absence of evidence for inflation, measured empirically by CPI indices. The problem is that the 'goods and services' measured by the CPI are not exactly a useful basket, as some indices exclude the 'volatile' items in order to give a seasonal account. The greater issue however is the 'qualitative' adjustments governments make to inflation numbers, as they are not always comparing like items, i.e. A 286 computer in the 1980s bears no easy comparison to the modern computer. How do you account for the fact that you no longer need anti-virus software as an bundle of inflation costs. Finally, Krugman ignores the 'asset inflation' that exists in many countries. If these assets were to collapse, thanks to higher interest rates or correction to an impending asset bubble, then you would indeed expect inflation. The problem is 'not that the conservatives are wrong', but that their concerns are misplaced. i.e. Inflation is not in the short term from costs, but in unsustainable asset prices. The problem is that 'the problem' is concealed as a 'benefit' for some, because people in the cities like to see their property prices rise. Those buying late are happy as long as the correction in asset prices doesn't show. i.e. They are not concerned until there is a collapse, and even then they might not care if the collapse does not send them broke, precipitate the loss of their job, or their interest repayments does not exceed what they would otherwise have paid in rent.

2. Krugman cannot forecast inflation
Krugman is akin to the environmentalist who points at 'evidence' and decries how bad or wrong people are. He is a tragic soul who understands nothing. He has no credible analytical proscription for how the world works. This is why he cannot offer an explanation of the world; only criticism when others are wrong. He cannot tell us when inflation will appear; if it ever will, and he cannot offer an explanation of why. Firstly, we need to deal with what inflation is.
Inflation is a broad indicator of price movements relative to purchasing power; which is itself tied to the productive capacity of any economy and the supply and demand for money. 
The Austrian School is correct insofar as they regard there to be a relationship between the supply of money and the productive capacity of the economy. Their failure is to not convey an understanding of the dynamics that actually drive price movements. i.e. There is a tendency to speak 'broadly' (by definition) and not see the differentiated foundation for supply and demand in the economy. They fail to see that there are several pertinent factors, namely:
a. Wage restraint prompting an overweight investment in investments like productive property, productive capacity and securities that help finance that capacity, prompting an excess of savings over consumption, i.e. we see a deferment of spending. They fail to realise that this is caused by the autocrats of developing countries causing a pent up supply of labour, suddenly released in the 1980s. It will take us another 15-20 years to balance this global labour distortion, but the impact will be 'mass stimulus' to the global economy, the persistent of the 'super cycle', and low inflation. There will be no wages spiral, though we might expect some unionisation in Asia. There is however no culture of this, and Asia will need to compete with Africa, South Asia on labour costs.
b. Low interest rates prompting speculation in assets.

For these reasons, we can say that the global market place will be under low inflationary pressures for another 15-odd years. In that time, we can expect corresponding asset price bubbles. Its inflation, but not the type described by Krugman. He, like the Fed Reserve, like Alan Greenspan, are simply not looking at asset prices as a vulnerability. It is the prospect of asset price collapses that will demand further QE programs. These are forms of taxation rather that cost-of-living inflation. They are destined to recapitalise the value of money; but not cause the type of inflation spiral that is associated with cost-of-living inflation. In fact, the dearth of specialisation and economies of scale, along with productivity gains are destined to see costs under control. So that's the explanation and forecast.

3. Krugman offers no clarity over 'excess money'
Concerns about "excess money and a devalued dollar" is not a problem (as Krugman argues) because there is no such thing as excessive money. Even in the context of a 'balanced labour' market, the problem is not wage demands; the problem is that they able to be extorted from business by unionised labour. We are however under the illusion that unions are good, because they lead to better worker conditions. They don't. They take what business would have been forced to give (belatedly) or they extort that which business cannot afford to offer, so being forced to close business and go overseas, or go broke.
Krugman suggests that the USD is not weak, but in fact it is relative to hard currencies in Asia. He does not realise this because he selectively compares USD value with other major currencies, like the Yen and Euro, which are also weak, or those economies whose pricing is tied to the USD, whether its the managed 'mercantilist' currency regimes of Asia, or even the USD-denominated currencies of commodity producers like Australia, South Africa, Canada et al. It does not help that these countries borrow in USD. The implication is that all these currencies become immutably tied to the USD. The fact is that there is no country pursuing a 'productivity' based wealth strategy to prompt higher currencies. They are pursuing an 'economic stimulus' strategy, which attempts to create the illusion of wealth creation. Observe that households are working harder than ever, with two or more contributors to income, and they still struggle to live. Home prices are 10x average earnings in many cities. Unskilled labour is having a harder struggle still. This is the constituency that 'applaudes' Krugman's negativity, but he is unable to offer a solution. He can only knock down straw arguments.

It is true that many free marketers and conservatives have been expecting inflation. His argument is not entirely invalid; but this is not a man with much interest in truth; so much as disparaging counter-thesis to his own delusion.

In conclusion, we can expect more asset bubbles, with the prospect of more bail outs by government of banks or maybe creditors. We can expect no sign of inflation for more than a decade. We can expect those traditional indicators of inflation, the precious metals, like gold, silver, palladium and platinum to rise in price slowly, as they are among the cheapest assets. They will not however do as well as demand-based commodities in the short term, or as well as emerging market property. The reason being of course the low-yield on these asset classes. They will however be helped in time by the low yield on equities and property. This will take time to unfold. This is a super-cycle...so don't be tragic. Though it will be harsh times for unskilled workers in the West. They live in an over-priced, high cost markets, and without exployment opportunities in the third world, they are really between a rock and a hard place, with no preparedness to address their problem.

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