Category Archives: Inflation

A2 Economics – Wage Price Spiral and the Long Run Phillips Curve

Just covering this topic with my A2 class. Part of the CIE A2 macro syllabus focuses on the wage price spiral which relates to the Phillips Curve. Here are some excellent notes that I picked up from Russell Tillson in my early days teaching at Epsom College. As from previous posts, the Phillips Curve analysed data for money wages against the rate of unemployment over the period 1862-1958. Money wages and prices were seen to be strongly correlated, mainly because the former are the most significant costs of production. Hence the resulting curve purported to provide a “trade-off’ between inflation and unemployment – i.e. the government could ‘select’ its desired position on the curve.During the 1970’s higher rates of inflation than previously were associated with any given level of unemployment. It was generally considered that the whole curve had shifted right – i.e. to achieve full employment a higher rate of inflation than previously had to be accepted.

Milton Friedman’s expectations-augmented Phillips Curve denies the existence of any long-run trade off between inflation and unemployment. In short, attempts to reduce unemployment below its natural rate by fiscal reflation will succeed only at the cost of generating a wage-price spiral, as wages are quickly cancelled out by increases in prices.

Each time the government reflates the economy, a period of accelerating inflation will follow a temporary fall in unemployment as workers anticipate a future rise in inflation in their pay demands, and unemployment returns to its natural rate.

The process can be seen in the diagram below – a movement from A to B to C to D to E

Friedman thus concludes that the long-run Phillips Curve (LRPC) is vertical (at the natural rate of unemployment), and the following propositions emerge:

1. At the natural rate of unemployment, the rate of inflation will be constant (but not necessarily zero).

2. The rate of unemployment can only be maintained below its natural rate at the cost of accelerating inflation. (Reflation is doomed to failure).

3. Reduction in the rate of inflation requires deflation in the economy – i.e. unemployment must rise (in the short term at least) above its natural rate.

Some economists go still further, and argue that the natural rate has increased over time and that the LRPC slopes upwards to the right. If inflation is persistently higher in one country that elsewhere, the resulting loss of competitiveness reduces sales and destroys capacity. Hence inflation is seen to be a cause of higher inflation.

Rational expectations theorists deny Friedman’s view that reflation reduces unemployment even in the short-run. Since economic agents on average correctly predicted that the outcome of reflation will be higher inflation, higher money wages have no effect upon employment and the result of relations simply a movement up the LRPC to a higher level of inflation.

Post coronavirus: putting more V in MV=PT

Governments around the world introduce unprecedented fiscal stimulus packages to compensate those who have been impacted by the enforced lockdown. In New Zealand Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced a $12.1 billion stimulus package to support New Zealanders and their jobs from the global impact of COVID-19 – the largest in the world on a per capita basis. The money is hopefully going to bring as many businesses back from the brink of closure but the crucial aspect of this injection is that it actually does stimulate demand and generate additional spending. Businesses that survive this pandemic and open their doors again will need the demand side of the economy to do its bit.

Demand side

The lockdown has badly affected the demand side of the economy and it won’t revert back to the way it away was overnight. Will people venture back into areas with large crowds – bars, restaurants, hotels etc? It is essential that demand makes a return in order to inject some inflation into the economy. But with such uncertainty consumers will want to put off a lot of non-essential purchases. Many economists are also concerned with the “output gap.” — the difference between what the economy could produce and what it was producing. The solution to this output gap, particularly one caused by collapsing economic demand, is to invest in infrastructure projects and give consumers cash. If consumers don’t spend then the government should step-in and spend on their behalf to create the demand necessary to return the economy to some sort of normality. One indicator that we shouldn’t be worried at present is inflation – in theory such a stimulus should create inflationary pressure – the 1970’s yes but today this is less likely when you look at the velocity of circulation.

Velocity of circulation of money is part of the the Monetarist explanation of inflation operates through the Fisher equation:

M x V = P x T

M = Stock of money
V = Income Velocity of Circulation
P = Average Price level
T = Volume of Transactions or Output

For example if M=100 V=5 P=2 T=250.   Therefore MV=PT – 100×5 = 2×250. Both M x V and P x T are equivalent to TOTAL EXPENDITURE or NOMINAL INCOME in a given time period. To turn the equation into a theory, monetarists assume that V and T are constant, not being affected by changes in the money supply, so that a change in the money supply causes an equal percentage change in the price level.

However when the velocity of money is falling, monetary policy which would otherwise cause inflation doesn’t seem to do so. The velocity graph (USA) above shows that you need to go back to 1949 to find a time when it was lower than today, and it was actually rising rapidly after the postwar lows. Remember that this graph was before the Covid-19 lock down. Velocity needs to increase at rapid rate to cause any inflation.

We have no idea of how the future is going to unfold because we have never seen anything like this before – to quote Rogoff and Reinhart – This time it is definitely different.

Source: Thoughts from the from line by John Mauldin

Paul Volcker – 1929-2019 – the slayer of inflation.

I first came across Paul Volcker in the ‘Commanding Heights’ series produced by PBS. Appointed to the position of Chairman of the US Federal Reserve in 1979 by the then President Jimmy Carter, Paul Volcker understood the problems of the Great Inflation in the US economy which was at around 11.5%. Up to this point Carter had attempted to follow Keynes’s formula to spend his way out of trouble by dropping taxes and increasing government spending. However this was not working. Below is an extract from the PBS series.

It came to be considered part of Keynesian doctrine that a little bit of inflation is a good thing. And of course what happens then, you get a little bit of inflation, then you need a little more, because it peps up the economy. People get used to it, and it loses its effectiveness. Like an antibiotic, you need a new one; you need a new one. Well, I certainly thought that inflation was a dragon that was eating at our innards, so the need was to slay that dragon. Paul Volcker

Volcker’s policy to tighten the money supply with increasing interest rates, which peaked at 21.5% but was not popular with Jimmy Carter who lost the election to Ronald Reagan. But in order to get prices down the economy had to experience a recession and the longer the inflation was out of control the worse the recession would be. Unemployment did hit 10% but could have been much worse. As Ronald Reagan said referring to a recession – ‘if not now when? If not us who?’

He saw the primary focus of central banker was to control inflation and preserve the value of money whether is be keeping prices stable or ensuring that there is not easy access to credit. Below is a tribute from Paul Solman of PBS.

Monetary Policy in New Zealand – what the OCR means.

The Monetary Policy Committee of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) operates monetary policy in New Zealand through adjusting the official cash rate (OCR). The OCR was introduced in March 1999, and is reviewed 7 – 8 times a year. The recent amendment to the Reserve Bank’s legislation sets up a Monetary Policy Committee that is responsible for a new dual mandate of keeping consumer price inflation low and stable, and supporting maximum sustainable employment. The agreement continues the requirement for the Reserve Bank to keep future annual CPI inflation between 1 and 3% over the medium-term, with a focus on keeping future inflation near the 2% mid-point.

Through adjusting the OCR, the Reserve Bank is able to substantially influence short-term interest rates in New Zealand, such as the 90-day bank bill rate. It also has an influence upon long-term interest rates and the exchange rate. In theory this is what the impact should be:

Higher interest rates = contractionary effect which leads to lower inflation and less employment growth

Lower interest rates = expansionary effect which can lead to higher inflation but more employment growth.

However the Reserve Bank of New Zealand acknowledge that it is a very complex mechanism as interest rates impact the aggregate demand through various channels – C+I+G+(X-M) – and over varying time periods.

On a normal day consumers, producers, government etc undertake financial transactions involving the commercial banking system. At the end of each day they need to ensure that their accounts balance but some registered banks may find that they are short of funds following the net aggregate result of these transactions, while others may find that they have substantial deposits.

Commercial banks that are have positive balances can leave this money with the Reserve Bank overnight. They receive the OCR on deposits up to a threshold level, and then receive the OCR less 1% for the remainder. Commercial banks that have a negative balance can borrow overnight from the Reserve Bank at an overnight rate of the OCR plus 0.5%. Therefore if you use the current OCR rate of 1% you get this situation. Remember that 50 basis point = 0.50% and 100 basis points = 1.00%.

Banks have the option (and incentive) of borrowing from each other, and using the Reserve Bank as a last resort. In doing so, both parties gain as the lending and borrowing rate tends to mirror the OCR (given the level of competition in the banking market). Those banks with excess deposits can then receive an overnight rate close to one percent (rather than a zero interest rate on any funds over the threshold level). Those banks who need to borrow funds can do so at around the OCR rate, rather than at 1.50 percent. The interest rate at which these transactions take place is called the overnight interbank cash rate see graph below.

Source: Grant Cleland – Parliamentary Monthly Economic Review – Special Topic – October 2019

AS Revision – Functions of Money and Venezuela

Covering this topic last week at a revision course and there was some confusion between the functions of money and characteristics. It is important to remember that the characteristics fall within the medium of exchange. Below are some notes and a video about how hyperinflation impacts people in Venezuela and the functions of money.

1. Medium of exchange. This is very important in a specialised economy as barter would be very inefficient. It also makes possible a great extension of the principle of specialisation.

The desirable qualities of money are as follows:-

  • Acceptable: Must be sure somebody will accept your money for goods & services
  • Scarce: Should be, if there’s too much, then no one would value it, hence gold was always good money.
  • Portable: Convenient to carry around
  • Divisible: Can be divide up into different denominations
  • Durable: Money (physical) that can last

2. Unit of Account. A unit of account is a way of placing a specific value on economic goods and services. Thus, as a unit of account, the monetary unit is used to measure the value of goods and services relative to other goods and services. It thus enables individuals to compare, easily, the relative value of goods and services.  A firm uses money prices to calculate profits and losses: and a typical household budgets its regular expenses daily using money prices as its unit of account.

3. Store of Value. Once a commodity becomes universally acceptable in exchange for goods and services, it is possible to store wealth by holding a stock of this commodity. It is a great convenience to hold wealth in the form of  money. Consider the problems holding wealth in the form of wheat. It may deteriorate, it is costly to store, must be insured, and there will be significant  handling costs in accumulating and distributing it.

4. Standard of Value/Standard of Deferred Payment. An important function of money in the modern world, where so much business is conducted on the basis of credit, is to serve as a means of deferred payment. When goods are supplied on credit, the buyer has immediate use of them but does not have to make an immediate payment. The goods can be paid for three, or perhaps six, months after delivery.

How does hyperinflation affect the functions of money?

Medium of exchange – consumers may lose confidence in this function of money and therefore resort to barter.
Store of value – inflation erodes the value of money so does not keep its value. Better for consumers to spend their money rather than see it decline in value. Also they can’t afford to save.
Unit of account – prices change with inflation making comparisons difficult. Also notes need to be printed in higher denominations.
Means of deferred payment – with inflation decreasing the value of money the amount of money that you pay back to the lender decreases in real terms. However the lender is most likely to increase the cost of borrowing so they are protecting the value of money owed to them.

Argentina – will capital controls work?

Last week Argentina imposed currency controls on business to prevent money leaving the economy after the Argentinian Peso lost over 25% of its value since elections last month – see graphic. The central bank now require that:

  • exporters to repatriate earnings within 5 to 15 days
  • businesses will need permission to repatriate profits abroad or buy US dollars
  • residents are restricted to foreign exchange purchase of US$10,000 and non-residents US$1,000

With a track record of hyperinflation and financial crises, Argentinians are quick to sell their Pesos for US$ to maintain store value – with inflation and turmoil in an economy the local currency has less purchasing power. It is important for the Argentina government to restrict the demand for US$ and improve its ability to pay its significant debt – US$101bn. Capital controls have the aim of protecting the stability of the Peso and savers.

Will it work?

Although capital controls do stabilise the currency in a panic situation, they will only work in the long-term if they are used to confront the underlying macroeconomic problems in the economy itself. However, with Argentina’s inflationary issues coupled with fiscal deficits, capital controls are a band aid solution to the macroeconomic problems. Below is a very good video from the FT giving a background to the problems in Argentina.

50 basis points cut by RBNZ – are they going negative?

The 50 basis points of the OCR (Official Cash Rate) by the RBNZ took everyone by surprise. Cuts of this magnitude generally only occur when significant events happen – 9/11, the GFC, the Christchurch earthquake etc. However the US China trade dispute have significant implications for global trade and ultimately the NZ economy. The idea behind such a cut is to be proactive and get ahead of the curve – why wait and be reactionary.

The Bank has forecast the OCR to trough at 0.9 percent, indicating a possible further interest rate cut in the near future. The RBNZ believe that lower interest rates will drive economic growth by encouraging more investment but you would have thought that such low rates wold have been stimulatory by now. I don’t recall the corporate sector complaining too much about interest rates and according to the NZIER (New Zealand Institute of Economic Research) latest survey of business opinion only 4% of firms cited finance as the factor most limiting their ability to increase turnover. The problem seems to be an increase in input costs for firms which is hard to pass on to consumers.

Lower interest rates have a downside in the reduction in spending by savers and this could also impact on consumer confidence. Any hint of further easing seems to encourage financial risk-taking more than real investment. Central bankers have thus become prisoners of the atmosphere they helped to create. There is still a belief amongst politicians that central bankers have the power by to solve these issues in an economy and politicians keep asking why those powers aren’t being used.

Are negative Interest rates an option?

The idea behind this is that if trading banks are charged interest for holding money at the central bank they are more likely to make additional loans to people. Although this sounds good negative interest rates on those that hold deposits at the bank could lead to customers storing their money elsewhere.

The European Central Bank sees that negative interest rates have an expansionary effect which outweighs the contractionary effect. An example of this is Jyske Bank, Denmark’s third-largest bank, offered a 10-year fixed-rate mortgage with an interest rate of -0.5%. for a ten-year mortgage – in other words the bank pay you to take out a mortgage.

However negative interest rates is seen as a short-run fix for the economy. Getting people to pay interest for deposit holdings may mean that banks have less deposits to lend out in the long-run and this may choke off lending and ultimately growth in the EU.

Modern Monetary Theory vs Mainstream Monetary Theory

Although not in the A2 syllabus we have had some great discussions in my A2 class on Modern Monetary Theory – MMT. It has its roots in the theory of John Maynard Keynes who during the Great Depression created the field of macroeconomics. He stated that the fact that income must always move to the level where the flows of saving and investment are equal leads to one of the most important paradoxes in economics – the paradox of thrift. Keynes explains how, under certain circumstances, an attempt to increase savings may lead to a fall in total savings. Any attempt to save more which is not matched by an equal willingness to invest more will create a deficiency in demand – leakages (savings) will exceed injections (investment) and income will fall to a new equilibrium. When you get this situation it is the government that can get the economy moving again by putting money in people’s pockets.

MMT states that a government that can create its own money therefore:

1. Cannot default on debt denominated in its own currency;
2. Can pay for goods, services, and financial assets without a need to collect money in the form of taxes or debt issuance in advance of such purchases;
3. Is limited in its money creation and purchases by inflation, which accelerates once the economic resources (i.e., labor and capital) of the economy are utilised at full employment;
4. Can control inflation by taxation and bond issuance, which remove excess money from circulation, although the political will to do so may not always exist;
5. Does not need to compete with the private sector for scarce savings by issuing bonds.

Within this model the only constraint on spending is inflation, which can break out if the public and private sectors spend too much at the same time. As long as there are enough workers and equipment to meet growing demand without igniting inflation, the government can spend what it needs to maintain employment and achieve goals such as halting climate change.

How does it differ from more mainstream monetary policy – see table below.

Those against MMT are dubious of the idea that the treasury and central bank should work together and also concerned about the jobs guarantee. They argue that if the government’s wage for guaranteed jobs is too low it won’t do much to help unemployed workers or the economy, while if it’s too high it will undermine private employment. They also say that trying to use fiscal policy to steer the economy is a proven failure because politicians rarely act quickly enough to respond to a downturn. They can’t be relied upon to impose pain on the public through higher taxes or lower spending to quell rising inflation.

Below is a video from Stephanie Kelton, an MMTer who was the economic adviser on Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign in 2016.

Sources:

The Economist – Free Exchange – March 16th 2019

Wikipedia – Modern Monetary Theory

A2 Economics – Quantity Theory of Money

Just covered MV = PT with my A2 class and produced some notes followed by a video from Marginal Revolution which I got from the Economics Teacher group.

Quantity Theory of Money

The Monetarist explanation of inflation operates through the Fisher equation.

M x V = P x T

M = Stock of money

V = Income Velocity of Circulation

P = Average Price level

T = Volume of Transactions or Output

For example if M=100 V=5 P=2 T=250.   Therefore MV=PT – 100×5 = 2×250

Both M x V and P x T are equivalent to TOTAL EXPENDITURE or NOMINAL INCOME in a given time period. The Quantity Theory is the familiar monetarist interpretation of the Equation and is based on the following assumptions:

  1. T is broadly equivalent to total output and is fixed in the short run
  2. V is broadly stable (i.e. the demand to hold money is relatively uninfluenced by the change in interest rates that arises from changes in the money stock).
  3. Causality runs from the left hand side to the right hand side of the equation

On these assumptions, increases in the money supply (after a suitable time lag) cause equivalent increases in the price level.

Critics argue that:

  1. V is not stable and responsive to interest rate changes.
  2. T is not fixed and is responsive to increases in the money supply below full employment.
  3. Change is P tend to cause changes in M (and not v.v.). In other words, changes in the money supply accommodate inflation and do not cause it.

Calculation using MV = PT

Since MV=PT (by definition), if M=$60, V=4 and T=12, then P can be found.

P =   MV /T  =  (60 x 4)/12  =  $20