Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Inflation v. Price Increase(s)

Well, after a grueling...[checks notes]...weekend-long campaign, it looks like some form of Universal Basic Income is going to be part of the president's economic stimulus package. (Yeah, I know Andrew Yang has been at this longer than a weekend, while Martin Luther King and Milton Friedman had been at it since the 60s, but in the course of last weekend, Yang went from the Asian dude who dropped out of the race to our economic Nostradamus.) And today I saw an article that warned that giving out that much cash would be inflationary.

Here's the thing: inflation is the CONCERTED rise of the overall price level. All (or most) prices rising at once. And the only way to get that to happen is to have money growth exceed output growth. If the money were coming off the printing press, then it would be inflationary.

Yang's idea of taxing Internet transactions takes the money from some current use and shifts it to another use. Yes, the prices of some things will increase when consumers bid up prices, but there will be an offsetting lower price SOMEWHERE in the economy. If we use existing money, there's no inflation, although some prices will rise.

Trump's plan, as far as I understand it, is to fund this with government debt, which means we're going to experience tomorrow's money growth NOW. Shifting that money from the future to the present, while output growth stays constant, will be inflationary, right? But I don't think so.

The Federales print a $100 bond, let's say, and sell it for $95. "They just created five extra dollars!" No. The $95 used to buy the bond today came from some other use TODAY. Money was not created. There will be disruptions, sure, as the investment portion of GDP declines and the consumption portion increases. But it won't be money from nowhere.

The only way to get inflation is to print money faster than we make stuff of the same value. Giving $2T or $3T to citizens is not inflationary, because that money already exists, and is just getting put to a different use.

Of course, if the Federal Reserve buys the new Treasury bonds, then sure, that'll get you inflation. But that's just a fancy way of saying "prints more money."

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