Episode 209: “The Money Confusion: Why Inflation Now?” with John Tamny

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In 1974, with annual inflation raging over 12%, President Gerald Ford introduced WIN (“whip inflation now”) buttons telling Americans: “To help increase food and lower prices, grow more and waste less. To help save scarce fuel in the energy crisis, drive less, heat less.” In other words, the responsibility to fix inflation fell to ordinary Americans. It didn’t work – because they didn’t cause it in the first place – and it would be another eight years before Fed Chairman Paul Volcker tamed the inflation beast. With draconian measures, like draining bank reserves, the Fed funds rate rose to 19.1% and mortgage rates reached over 18%. Volcker’s “remedy” engineered not one severe recession but two of them, back to back.  Today, a “WIN” button might stand for “Why Inflation Now?” The many explanations include: the explosion of Federal spending and the money supply, Vladimir Putin and the Ukraine war, the economic disruptions caused by Covid policy lockdown, the war on fossil fuels and (my favorite) claims from MSNBC commentators that Republicans have invented the term inflation for political purposes. In this episode my frequent guest John Tamny and I debate whether today’s out-of-control inflation has been caused by a massive increase in federal spending and paid for by the Federal Reserve’s printing money.   Or By the destruction of critical elements of our real productive economy caused by governments’ coercive lockdowns and other measures taken in 2020 and 2021 to stop a covid virus, which in the end, came anyway. Notice that both explanations lay the blame at the doorstep of government policymakers. Both explanations probably play a part, although John, reliable contrarian that he is, believes only the second is the real reason. John Tamny, Vice President of FreedomWorks, editor of RealClearMarkets and a senior fellow at the Market Institute is the author of the recently published The Money Confusion: How Illiteracy About Currencies and Inflation Sets the Stage for a Crypto Revolution Vastly oversimplified, there are essentially two types of inflation. “Non-monetary” inflation where price increases are driven by rising demand for products and services that occurs naturally in markets. The other type is “monetary” inflation, resulting from central bank money printing or other events that cause currencies to lose value. The Money Explanation: At $30 trillion, our Federal debt now exceeds the size of the entire US economy with much of this massive obligation being financed by the Federal Reserve buying Treasury bonds that it pays for with money it creates out of thin air. This has unleashed an ocean of dollars into the economy. From 2020 to mid 2021, the money supply exploded by more than 35 percent, exceeding an astonishing $ 20 trillion. The result: inflation with the average American losing $8,500 in purchasing power in the last year. The Shutdown of the Economy Explanation: Higher prices in the aftermath of crushing lockdowns weren’t caused by government spending or “money supply” but instead were the logical consequence of impairing the interconnectedness of the market that makes ever-falling prices a possibility in the first place. “To be clear” John explains, “higher prices did reveal themselves in 2021 and 2022 but there’s a big difference between rising prices born of currency devaluation versus the imposition of command-and-control. The latter is not inflation.” Listen to our brief back and forth and you decide.

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