Written by Doug French
he 4.2 percent Consumer Price Index (CPI) bounce for April sent a chill through some traders and financial commentators who had expected a tamer number like a 3.6 or 3.9 percent from last year’s covid price level air pocket.
The MarketWatch headline screamed, “U.S. Inflation Soars in April to Thirteen-Year High, CPI Shows, and Reveals Fresh Stress on the Economy.” Barron’s was slightly more relaxed: “Surging Inflation Is Hammering the Stock Market. Why It Isn’t Time to Panic Just Yet.” Then there was Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, who tweeted, “So, the inflation report wasn’t a nothingburger, but it was sort of a White Castle slider—not a very big deal.”
Before the 4.2 percent print, John Authers posted a piece on Bloomberg, “Markets Give Powell a Break. It May Be Transitory.” “It” being CPI. “Transitory” being a term Powell uses often, a.k.a., “don’t worry, be happy, this too will pass.”
With all of this teeth gnashing over CPI and money supply, Nobelist Krugman offered up what he calls “Krugman Wonks Out: Return of the Monetary Cockroaches,” where he says, “[C]ockroach ideas, false beliefs that sometimes go away for a while but always come back.” The false belief according to him is that increases in the supply of money lead to inflation, meaning price inflation.
We must remember what Ludwig von Mises wrote, “What people today call inflation is not inflation, i.e., the increase in the quantity of money and money substitutes, but the general rise in commodity prices and wage rates which is the inevitable consequence of inflation. This semantic innovation is by no means harmless.”
So while Chairman Powell claims to be adhering to the Fed’s mandate of stable prices, stable prices in a world with the division of labor and technology running step for step like Affirmed and Alydar in the 1978 Belmont Stakes, prices should be falling, making everyone, especially those at the bottom of the economic food chain better off.
Tragically, Powell sees it another way. Reuters reported the Fed chair as saying that “low inflation hurts American businesses and households and constrains the Fed’s ability to offset economic shocks with easy monetary policy.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Professor Jörg Guido Hülsmann wrote in Deflation and Liberty,
In a word: the dangers of deflation are chimerical, but its charms are very real. There is absolutely no reason to be concerned about the economic effects of deflation—unless one equates the welfare of the nation with the welfare of its false elites. There are by contrast many reasons to be concerned about both the economic and political consequences of the only alternative to deflation, namely, re-inflation—which is of course nothing but inflation pure and simple.
Given the retirement of the Contra Krugman team of Tom Woods and Bob Murphy, I’m left to point out that what Krugman can’t see must not be. Where’s the hyperinflation, you zombies and monetary cockroaches? He said we cried wolf ten years ago and are doing it again.
Now, he fingers the crypto crowd for the money-printing panic. He claims to be patient, but those who seek escape from the government’s currency and are arguing “[f]iat money is doomed because the Fed won’t stop running the printing press” are wrong, he says, because “nothing like that has happened in the U.S.”
But it has happened and is happening. Murray Rothbard explained, “[A]n increase in the money supply can only dilute the effectiveness of each existing money unit, and therefore must be “inflationary” in the sense of raising prices beyond what they would have been otherwise.”
“What they would have been otherwise” being the key. Were the Weimar Republic or recently Zimbabwe or today’s Venezuela sophisticated economies ripe with technology and the division of labor, creating efficiencies and pushing down prices? No. Those governments printed money, and their people had nowhere to escape the falling currency but by buying up consumer goods, creating shortages, clearing shelves, and forcing up prices until their entire economies fell apart.
Everyone has seen pictures of empty shelves in Venezuela. Meantime, the one-year return on the Caracas stock exchange is 1,804.92 percent according to Bloomberg.
Venezuela’s well-to-do survive and possibly thrive, while the poor starve. And, for Nobel laureates and Fed chairmen that’s just fine.
The US has inflation. It benefits the rich, at the expense of the poor.
“Inflation is the true opium of the people and it is administered to them by anticapitalist governments and parties,” wrote Mises.
What Krugman can’t see is that people are escaping the Fed’s money creation by buying stocks, bonds, real estate, crypto, NFTs, and who knows what all. While it might not be hyper, yet, the Fed is providing an overdose of what Mises called true opium.