The inflation of today is a starkly different creature than what we faced in 1979. The world is massively different and presenting us with a strain of inflation that will most likely be stronger and more difficult to combat without major disruptions to our economy. This article is an attempt to highlight the differences and why today the position we find ourselves in is much more precarious.
New data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed price inflation in November rose to the highest in forty years. Allianz Chief Economic Advisor Mohamed El-Erian warned the Federal Reserve is losing credibility by not tapering its balance sheet to rein in inflation. Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" he stated the most significant miscalculation in decades is the Fed's inability to characterize inflation correctly. It was only on November 30th that Fed Chair Jerome Powell finally retired the term "transitory" and opted to label inflation as persistent.
President Biden response to rising inflation has been to call upon Congress to pass his Build Back Better plan. Biden claims this will lower how much families pay for health care, prescription drugs, child care, and more.” In reality, of course, the passage of BBB would increase inflationary pressure throughout the economy and only transfer these soaring costs from the individual to the government.
The idea the economy of 2021 is strong enough to allow a rapid and huge surge in interest rates such as those imposed upon America in 1981 is false. During America's prior bout with inflation 40 years ago the economy was able to withstand the shock. Yes, we did have a recession, but it was short-lived because the foundation of our economy was much stronger. America was not bleeding from huge trade deficits and people had real jobs.
Debt And The Money Supply Are Rising Much Faster Than The GDP
Today, after years of trade deficits, America's economic foundation has grown much weaker. We have created the illusion of economic growth by blowing the lid off government spending. This has created a false economy and should not be confused with real growth. The chart above has been circulated in many forms. It reveals the GDP lagging the growth in the money supply and debt. We are living in a completely different era and facing a far more serious problem.
The cause of inflation during the 1970s is blamed on several events specific to that time in our history. Part of it was due to rising oil prices (oil prices tripled in the 1970s). There was also inflation due to rising wages. Unions were relatively powerful and their bargaining for higher wages to keep up with the rising cost of living created a wage-inflationary spiral. Yous should also throw in spending on the Vietnam War and Nixon cutting the tie of the dollar to gold. The result was an inflationary mindset that exploded as investors and waves of people started investing in ways that would protect them from being ravished by a falling dollar.
Fast forward to the end of 2021. Today, many people are busy blaming the recent inflation on supply chain disruptions resulting from the global pandemic. In truth, much more focus should be turned to the surge in money supply, government spending, and Fed policies. The result from the combination of these toxic paths forward has created a slew of new problems. Surging inequality, more reliance on government.
Lock-downs initiated by governments to halt the spread of what turned out to be a "not so deadly" virus also have added to our woes. This is evident as small and mid-size businesses struggle to stay afloat in a world where huge companies have access to cash and many options not afforded to their smaller competitors. Today the "Amazon effect" is continuing to ravage America while its full impact has yet to be felt in most communities. It seems that only after Amazon has wrecked communities leaving many Americans jobless and retail stores sitting as giant empty shells might short-sighted consumers finally realize Amazon is bad for America and its distribution system an affront to the environment.
The idea anyone can predict how creating trillions, upon trillions, upon trillions of dollars worth of demand and debt over just a few years will tilt inflation is a reach. Now that inflation has taken hold how to stop it will be the real test. This calls for a bunch of clumsy idiots to thread an economic needle. A great deal of the problem we currently face is rooted in the lack of faith many people have come to hold in those that direct the policies that affect us.
This extends to how Central Banks and politicians want to bend and manipulate the economy to rapidly address what they call climate change and a rash of other issues. We are even being told while the planet is about to undergo food and energy shortages the answer is to have more children because we need more workers. Ironically, this is being touted as an answer at the same time we are giving people less incentive to work and rapidly moving to erase millions of jobs through automation.
As for the Fed, it has become "the great enabler" by allowing this to go on for so long. Many economic watchers have come to the conclusion the Fed has totally lost control of the situation. The big question is whether it will taper and risk a major recession or keep pumping out money. Continuing down its current path is viewed as a recipe that will allow inflation to run rampant.
Years ago we saw more of a balancing act with Central Banks concerned that bond vigilantes would descend upon them if they stepped out of line. Before the days of Modern Monetary Theory, investors voted on government budget deficits and debt management each day by buying or selling bonds. This is no longer seems the case due to massive Central Bank intervention. With each "crisis" has come excuse after excuse which has allowed the Central Banks to rewrite the rule governing the global financial system.
Going forward other calamities and crises await society, these will also affect inflation. Whether they come in the form of energy shortages, food shortages, or devastation caused by war, each will leave its mark. While creating the illusion this time is different has allowed those in charge to postpone facing serious questions only time will tell. It is clear the currency is being debased, the big questions now are where it will be most prevalent and how we as individuals can protect ourselves from its fury.