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Inflation: Good or Bad?

Tomorrow the bureau of labor will report October CPI.  Economists expect the headline to be unchanged, but that core CPI, excluding food and energy, will be up .3%.  I hate the idea of inflation due to the fact that it is the government’s way of taxing without actually sending you a bill, but in the great contraction it is worth questioning whether inflation is a good or bad thing.  I turn to a McKinsey interview with Kenneth Rogoff (co-author of “This Time is Different”):

There are no quick fixes. But I do think that this is a period when we shouldn’t be worried about raising inflation slightly. Indeed, moderate inflation, I would say, is exactly the prescription for a Great Depression–type scenario or a Japan-type scenario. It lowers real interest rates, helps facilitate housing price adjustment (the real price still needs to come down in many places), and modestly shortens the typical long post-crisis deleveraging period. I’ve pushed the idea, for some time, that we’re in a Great Contraction, not in a typical recession, and one has to analyze the problem differently. Unfortunately, there is still a risk that this thing could get much, much worse. The biggest problem is the global overhang of debt. After publishing our book, Carmen Reinhart and I did a study that looked at the impact of public debt on growth. When debt gets over a certain level—a good marker is 90 percent of GDP—it is linked to lower growth.

If elevated inflation—I’ve suggested 4 to 6 percent for a few years—somewhat reduces real debt levels, that would be welcome. Of course, I do get a knee-jerk reaction from many people saying that even slightly elevated inflation is anathema; we’d be going back to the bad old days of the ’70s. And my answer is that this could still be much worse than the ’70s. I’ve worked my whole career on designing central banks and promoting tools and institutions for containing inflation. But right now, given a once-in-80-years downturn, you have to balance the risks.

The question is, can you balance on the edge of the razor and stave off hyperinflation?  Regardless, I would prefer to see a surprise on the CPI upside tomorrow.

This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly

Throughout history, rich and poor countries alike have been lending, borrowing, crashing–and recovering–their way through an extraordinary range of financial crises. Each time, the experts have chimed, “this time is different”–claiming that the old rules of valuation no longer apply and that the new situation bears little similarity to past disasters. With this breakthrough study, leading economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff definitively prove them wrong. Covering sixty-six countries across five continents, This Time Is Different presents a comprehensive look at the varieties of financial crises, and guides us through eight astonishing centuries of government defaults, banking panics, and inflationary spikes–from medieval currency debasements to today’s subprime catastrophe. Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, leading economists whose work has been influential in the policy debate concerning the current financial crisis, provocatively argue that financial combustions are universal rites of passage for emerging and established market nations. The authors draw important lessons from history to show us how much–or how little–we have learned.

Using clear, sharp analysis and comprehensive data, Reinhart and Rogoff document that financial fallouts occur in clusters and strike with surprisingly consistent frequency, duration, and ferocity. They examine the patterns of currency crashes, high and hyperinflation, and government defaults on international and domestic debts–as well as the cycles in housing and equity prices, capital flows, unemployment, and government revenues around these crises. While countries do weather their financial storms, Reinhart and Rogoff prove that short memories make it all too easy for crises to recur.

An important book that will affect policy discussions for a long time to come, This Time Is Different exposes centuries of financial missteps.

Throughout history, rich and poor countries alike have been lending, borrowing, crashing–and recovering–their way through an extraordinary range of financial crises. Each time, the experts have chimed, “this time is different”–claiming that the old rules of valuation no longer apply and that the new situation bears little similarity to past disasters. With this breakthrough study, leading economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff definitively prove them wrong. Covering sixty-six countries across five continents, This Time Is Different presents a comprehensive look at the varieties of financial crises, and guides us through eight astonishing centuries of government defaults, banking panics, and inflationary spikes–from medieval currency debasements to today’s subprime catastrophe. Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, leading economists whose work has been influential in the policy debate concerning the current financial crisis, provocatively argue that financial combustions are universal rites of passage for emerging and established market nations. The authors draw important lessons from history to show us how much–or how little–we have learned.

Using clear, sharp analysis and comprehensive data, Reinhart and Rogoff document that financial fallouts occur in clusters and strike with surprisingly consistent frequency, duration, and ferocity. They examine the patterns of currency crashes, high and hyperinflation, and government defaults on international and domestic debts–as well as the cycles in housing and equity prices, capital flows, unemployment, and government revenues around these crises. While countries do weather their financial storms, Reinhart and Rogoff prove that short memories make it all too easy for crises to recur.

An important book that will affect policy discussions for a long time to come, This Time Is Different exposes centuries of financial missteps.

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One Response

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  1. Mario says

    yes surly trader. And read this article (one-click download) from Cullen Roche of Pragmatic Capitalism where he talks about what hyper-inflation really is and how it is “accomplished”….and why we ain’t no where near it in our economy. This is really good and addresses the normal dim-witted concerns about “inflation” as a tax (hint it’s about standard of living and a stable currency). I hope you enjoy and find it useful and insightful. I know I did.

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1799102



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