Tag Archives: inflation

Is Europe On The Verge Of Another Great Depression – Or A Great Inflation?

By Simon Johnson

The news from Europe, particularly from within the eurozone, seems all bad.  Interest rates on Italian government debt continue to rise.  Attempts to put together a “rescue package” at the pan-European level repeatedly fall behind events.  And the lack of leadership from Germany and France is palpable – where is the vision or the clarity of thought we would have had from Charles de Gaulle or Konrad Adenauer?

In addition, the pessimists argue, because the troubled countries are locked into the euro, there are no good options.  Gentle or even dramatic depreciation of the exchange rate for Greece or Portugal or Italy is not in the cards.  As a result, it is hard to lower real wages so as to restore competitiveness and boost trade.  This means that the debt burdens for these countries are likely to seem insurmountable for a long time.  Hence there will likely be default and resulting global financial chaos.

According to the September 2011 edition of the IMF’s Fiscal Monitor, 44.4 percent of Italian general government debt is held by nonresidents, i.e., presumably foreigners (Statistical Table 9).  The equivalent number for Greece is 57.4 percent, while for Portugal it is 60.5 percent.  And if you want to get really negative and think the problems could spread from Italy to France, keep in mind that 62.5 percent of French government debt is held by nonresidents.  If Europe has a serious meltdown of sovereign debt values, there is no way that the problems will be confined just to that continent.

All of this is a serious possibility – and the lack of understanding at top European levels is a serious concern.  No one has listened to the warnings of the past three years.  Almost all the time since the collapse of Lehman Brothers has been wasted, in the sense that nothing was done to put government finances on a more sustainable footing.

But perhaps the pendulum of sentiment has swung too far, for one simple and perhaps not very comfortable reason. Continue reading

Ben Bernanke Doesn’t Get the Message

By James Kwak

I was on vacation last week (far from Jackson Hole) when Ben Bernanke gave his widely anticipated speech. The media (see the Times, for example) seemed to focus mainly on his criticisms of the political branches and economic policymaking, which were accurate enough. But in my opinion, Bernanke drew the wrong lessons from those observations.

He was very clear that the problem today is unemployment, not inflation:

“Recent data have indicated that economic growth during the first half of this year was considerably slower than the Federal Open Market Committee had been expecting, and that temporary factors can account for only a portion of the economic weakness that we have observed. Consequently, although we expect a moderate recovery to continue and indeed to strengthen over time, the Committee has marked down its outlook for the likely pace of growth over coming quarters. With commodity prices and other import prices moderating and with longer-term inflation expectations remaining stable, we expect inflation to settle, over coming quarters, at levels at or below the rate of 2 percent, or a bit less, that most Committee participants view as being consistent with our dual mandate.”

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Paul Ryan Criticizes Bernanke for Failing to Contain Tooth Fairy

By James Kwak

In a Congressional hearing today, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), chair of the House Budget Committee, strongly criticized Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke for failing to contain the severe inflation threat posed by the Tooth Fairy.

Ryan pointed to numerous studies showing that, despite ongoing economic sluggishness, the Tooth Fairy is paying much more for children’s baby teeth than in past years. In neighborhoods such as Winnetka, Cleveland Park, the Upper East Side, and Palo Alto, children can receive more than $20 per tooth — a dramatic increase from the 25-50 cents that the Tooth Fairy paid only a decade or two ago. In the Hamptons, summertime prices for teeth can easily exceed $100, according to a survey commissioned by the American Enterprise Institute.* Because the Tooth Fairy is able to create money magically, her purchases of unused teeth (with no apparent economic value**) increase the money supply, fueling inflation. Without explicitly accusing Bernanke of participation in the Tooth Fairy’s scheme, Ryan implied that the Tooth Fairy’s higher payouts may be part of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing scheme.

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Fed Chest-Thumping for Beginners

I generally avoid writing about monetary policy, since every economics course I’ve taken since college has been a micro course, and besides Simon is a macroeconomist, among other things. But since just about everyone in my RSS feed has been linking to Tim Duy’s recent article on the Fed, I thought I would try to put in context for all of us who don’t understand Fed-speak.

Duy takes as his starting point a series of statements by Fed governors and bank presidents indicating “hawkishness,” which in central banker jargon means caring primarily about inflation, not economic growth. (“Doves” are those who care more about economic growth and jobs, although, just like in the national security context, no one likes to be known as a dove. This itself is a disturbing use of language, since it implicitly justifies beating up on poor people, but let’s leave that for another day.)

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Where Are We Now? Five Point Summary

1. Financial markets have stabilized – largely because people believe that the government will not allow Citigroup to fail.  We have effectively nationalized any banking system losses, but we’ll let bank executives enjoy the full benefits of the upside.  How much shareholders participate remains to be seen; there will be no effective reining in of insider compensation (my version; Joe Nocera’s view).  For more on how we got here, see the Frontline documentary that airs on Tuesday and Paul Solman’s explainer wrap up.

2. The real economy begins to bottom out, although unemployment will not peak for a while and could stay high for several years.  Longer term growth prospects remain uncertain – has consumer behavior really changed; if finance doesn’t drive growth, what will; is the budget deficit under control or not (note: most of the guarantees extended to banks and other financial institutions are not scored in the budget)? Continue reading

Brazen Tunneling and Inflation

In most societies it is traditional to be somewhat sneaky in squeezing your shareholders or the government.  You might set up a complicated transfer pricing scheme or perhaps you arrange for a family-owned firm to acquire assets on the cheap from the publicly traded corporation that you control.  Or you could always arrange for the Kremlin to provide foreign exchange at a “special” price.

In the New United States, life is much simpler and bank tunneling considerably more brazen. Continue reading

GDP Growth Rates for Beginners

For a complete list of Beginners articles, see Financial Crisis for Beginners.

My post about French sociology got a wide range of comments, ranging from “Without a doubt, your best post yet” to “Reading this post made me think, for the first time, of ignoring Baseline Scenario from now on,” which I guess indicates we have a wide range of readers. In any case, for today I’m returning to something much more mundane: GDP growth rates. Like many Beginners articles, this one starts out with some basics, and then gets (a little) more interesting, but its main goal is to help you decipher the news that you already read.

To a casual reader, yesterday’s GDP announcement was that Gross Domestic Product (an aggregate measure of economic activity) fell by 6.1% or, more precisely, at an annual rate of 6.1%. What does this mean?

For those of you who have never visited the BEA website, this is what the raw numbers look like. (They give you  columns B and E, I calculated the rest.) Note that this is all in 2000 dollars, so inflation has been taken out.

gdp1

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