Archive for the 'Money' Category

Dec 13 2011

Podcast: Time is Money

Over the weekend I watched the new Justin Timberlake movie, In Time. In this edition of Welker’s Wikinomics Podcast I analyze the movie’s basic premise from a macroeconomic viewpoint.

Listen to the podcast, and then answer the discussion questions at the bottom of this post.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does increasing the supply of money cause the demand for goods and services to rise?
  2. Why does increasing the supply of money ultimately cause the supply of goods and services to fall?
  3. When would an increase in the money supply be most inflationary, when an economy is producing close to its full employment level or when an economy is experiencing a recession? Explain.
  4. With the help of a money market diagram and an aggregate demand / aggregate supply diagram, illustrate the effects of Will and Silvia’s re-distribution of time on the Ghetto’s economy.
  5. According to Friedman, expansionary monetary policy cannot contribute to a nation’s long-run economic growth. What types of government policies can be implemented to promote economic growth in a nation?

Podcast Credits: 

  • Intro song: The Rolling Stones – Time is On My Side
  • Ending song: Pink Floyd – Money
  • Milton Friedman quotes – Donahue, 1980

No responses yet

Aug 26 2009

Inflation: a threat to fear now or a distant concern?

Fidelity Investments – Inflation: A Threat or Not? by Dirk Hofschire

I was surprised to receive an email from the company that manages my personal investments directing me to an article that I would be able to use in class. But this analysis by a vice president of Fidelity Investments offers and excellent, concise examination of the threat posed by inflation in America today. I will use excerpts from the article and present the ideas in a graphical form to help students better understand the situation faced by the US as it struggles to emerge from its deep recession.

Hofschire sets out to answer four questions about inflation:

1. Is inflation accelerating?
2. Why is higher inflation expected?
3. Why hasn’t inflation occurred yet?
4. When will inflation return?
5. How high will inflation go?

1. Is in flation accellerating:

In short, NO.

In June, the U.S. consumer price index (CPI) declined 1.2% (on a year-over-year basis), representing the biggest fall in prices since 1950.1 Much of the decline is attributable to the steep drop in energy prices over the past year, which may reverse itself in the second half of 2009 if crude-oil prices remain near current levels. However, core CPI—which excludes food and energy—was less than 1.8% in June, demonstrating little inflationary pressure in general

A combination of weak aggregate demand and low resource costs for firms has kept price levels down.  While total spending has falling (leftward shift of AD), firms’ costs of production have fallen (rightward shift of AS). Since total output fell we can see that national income (Y) is less in 2009 than in 2008. Since price level has fallen, we can see deflation.

Diagram 1:

25 8 blog post graphs_1

2. Why is higher inflation expected?

With little evidence of economic strength or cost-push inflation today, the concern now is that the monetarist economic view of the world sees inflation clouds on the horizon. The godfather of modern monetarist economic thought, Milton Friedman, once stated, “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” What Friedman meant was that money—specifically changes in the supply and use of currency—was the primary driver for changes to price levels in an economy. Friedman informally defined inflation as “too much money chasing too few goods and services.” As a result, an excessive increase in the amount or use of money relative to economic output is the textbook prescription for inflation.

The inflation described above, and feared by Friedman and today’s monetarists is not of the cost-push type, rather the demand-pull variety. As the vast quantities of money injected by the US Fed work their way through the banking system and into the pockets of consumers and the hands of firm managers, eventually demand for America’s goods and services will rise. But in the current recession, the production of those goods and services has stagnated, meaning that once all this money starts getting spent, the competition among buyers for the limited output of producers will drive prices up.

Diagram 2:

25 8 blog post graphs_2

3. Why hasn’t inflation occurred yet?

…there remains considerable downward pressure on prices still in place, due to growing slack in the economy (i.e. underutilized resources, such as labor) and continued deleveraging by consumers and financial firms with heavy debt loads. With the unemployment rate at its highest level in 26 years and consumers saving more and spending less, there is little upward pressure on wages or prices for consumer goods.

Yes, the money supply has increased, which according to our answer to number 2 should lead to inflation. But not if the new money isn’t being spent! Banks with money from the Fed are holding onto their excess reserves instead of loaning them out, due to a prevailing lack of confidence in borrowers ability to repay loans during these hard economic times. If all the money the Central Bank is injecting in the economy is sitting idle, and resources such as labor, land and capital are under-employed, then there is little fear of cost-push nor demand-pull inflation.  Diagram 1 illustrates why inflation hasn’t occured yet.

The excess bank reserves thus represent both the potential for future inflation as well as the explanation for why rapid money growth has yet to create current inflation.

In short, money must be spent to drive inflation up. When households prefer savings to consumption and banks prefer liquidity to risk, inflation is only a distant fear.

4. When will inflation return?

Interestingly, the answer to this question can be summed up as: “hopefully sooner rather than later”. Despite popular belief, some inflation is considered a positive sign of economic growth. Just as deflation is the purveyor of doom and gloom (unemployment, uncertainty, low consumer and investor confidence, credit crunch, etc) inflation is a sign of health returning to the economy (improved confidence, rising employment, looser credit markets, expectations of future growth). Central Bankers like Bernanke will surely be showered with praise, while congressman will be quick to give credit to the fiscal stimulus package.

Whether the pick-up in money velocity leads to significantly higher inflation depends on how quickly the Fed pulls the reins back on the extraordinary credit it is currently providing. In theory, the Fed can take actions to reduce the size of its balance sheet and move back to a more appropriate level of money. In practice, due to the unprecedented expansion in the Fed’s balance sheet, this will be a challenge.

Just as it was the Fed”s and government’s job to get the party started through expansionary monetary and fiscal policies, it is equally important for policymakers to calm the party down should the level of inflation begin to rise.

Diagram 3:

25 8 blog post graphs_3

5. How high will inflation go?

Given the high level of slack (i.e. underutilized resources) likely to remain in the economy during the next two years, there also could be offsetting deflationary pressures lingering in the system. For example, the unemployment rate is expected to rise above 10% and not peak until sometime in 2010. Industrial capacity utilization rates are at their lowest level on record, which means a lot of unused capacity in the manufacturing sector. This slack must tighten considerably before upward pressure is placed on wages and other prices.

As a result of this downward pressure on wages, which remain the largest expense for corporations, it would appear a 1970s-style, double-digit inflation outburst remains unlikely in the short to medium term. Average weekly earnings for U.S. workers rose more than 7% annually during the period from 1975-1981 in which consumer price inflation averaged more than 9% and peaked at 14% in 1980.5 It is hard to foresee wage gains of that magnitude reinforcing inflation pressures during the next couple of years.

The 1970’s was a period of high inflation in the US, caused primarily by higher costs for firms rather than increasing demand for output. This “cost-push” inflation is unlikely to occur in today’s climate due to the high levels of unemployment and under-employment of labor, land and capital resources. This does not mean inflation won’t happen, just that it’s unlikely to look like the cost-push variety of the 1970’s.

Diagram 4:

25 8 blog post graphs_4

2 responses so far

Jan 19 2009

“The Ascent of Money” – Economic historian Niall Ferguson on the Colbert Report

Niall Ferguson | January 13th | ColbertNation.com

Harvard Economic historian Niall Ferguson on the Colbert Report explains the concept of “invisible money”. I just bought Ferguson’s new book, The Ascent of Money over the holidays and am looking forward to reading it. In his interview with Colbert, the historian explains that money as we know it is only worth something because we think it is worth something. Colbert can’t seem to believe that there’s no underlying intrinsic value such as a gold standard backing the value of his dollar bill, which has in fact been the case since the early 1970s in America.

Ferguson says that money represents a relationship of trust between a creditor and debtor, which is one reason there seems to be so little money available for spending in the economy today. Macroeconomic uncertainty and low consumer confidence are the main causes of the today’s global recession. In a climate of fear and uncertainty, the trust underpinning our monetary system dries up. Banks are afraid to make loans, consumers are afraid to make big purchases, and firms are afraid to make capital investments. The result? Low aggregate demand, falling income and output and rising unemployment.

Paul Krugman, in his latest book the The Return of Depression Economics argues that the fundamental solution to a financial crisis such as today’s is to drastically increase the money supply. The $350 billion that the Bush administration has pumped into the financial system already seems to have done very little to prime the economic pumps, so to speak. To restore trust, and thus stimulate real spending in the economy once again, creating income, output, and real employment, massive monetary stimulus will be needed. A trillion dollar stimulus package by an Obama administration should not come as a surprise, should it be put to the nation to vote on in the near future.

Our love of money is a little less impassioned than it was a few years ago, according to Ferguson. Not because money no longer serves an essential function in our lives, rather because we have lost much of our faith in our monetary system’s ability to create and maintain stable economic conditions and long-run economic growth. To restore Americans’ faith in the almighty dollar and put the economy back on a track towards stability and growth, a massive fiscal and monetary stimulus is needed. Okay, time to start reading The Ascent of Money and to watch less Comedy Central!

5 responses so far

Dec 04 2008

Are you prepared for the new alternate currency?

Published by under Currency,Humor,Money

xkcd – A Webcomic – Alternate Currency

Alternate Currency

8 responses so far

Oct 17 2008

Advice from an economic oracle – buy American stocks now!

Op-Ed Contributor – Buy American. I Am. – NYTimes.com

So Wall Street has recently experienced its worst shocks since the great depression. Every day the Dow Jones is like a roller coaster, DOWN 800 points, then  UP 500 points, then DOWN 200 followed by another rally of 600! In just three weeks the Dow has gone from 11,500 to below 900 points. Surely, the wise thing to do is get OUT of the stock market, right? WRONG! At least, so says the richest man in the world, Warren Buffet, someone who should know a thing or two about smart investing.

Why?

A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation’s many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now.

Let me be clear on one point: I can’t predict the short-term movements of the stock market. I haven’t the faintest idea as to whether stocks will be higher or lower a month — or a year — from now. What is likely, however, is that the market will move higher, perhaps substantially so, well before either sentiment or the economy turns up. So if you wait for the robins, spring will be over.

A little history here: During the Depression, the Dow hit its low, 41, on July 8, 1932. Economic conditions, though, kept deteriorating until Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933. By that time, the market had already advanced 30 percent. Or think back to the early days of World War II, when things were going badly for the United States in Europe and the Pacific. The market hit bottom in April 1942, well before Allied fortunes turned. Again, in the early 1980s, the time to buy stocks was when inflation raged and the economy was in the tank. In short, bad news is an investor’s best friend. It lets you buy a slice of America’s future at a marked-down price.

Over the long term, the stock market news will be good. In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.

You might think it would have been impossible for an investor to lose money during a century marked by such an extraordinary gain. But some investors did. The hapless ones bought stocks only when they felt comfort in doing so and then proceeded to sell when the headlines made them queasy.

Today people who hold cash equivalents feel comfortable. They shouldn’t. They have opted for a terrible long-term asset, one that pays virtually nothing and is certain to depreciate in value. Indeed, the policies that government will follow in its efforts to alleviate the current crisis will probably prove inflationary and therefore accelerate declines in the real value of cash accounts.

Equities will almost certainly outperform cash over the next decade, probably by a substantial degree. Those investors who cling now to cash are betting they can efficiently time their move away from it later. In waiting for the comfort of good news, they are ignoring Wayne Gretzky’s advice: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

I don’t like to opine on the stock market, and again I emphasize that I have no idea what the market will do in the short term. Nevertheless, I’ll follow the lead of a restaurant that opened in an empty bank building and then advertised: “Put your mouth where your money was.” Today my money and my mouth both say equities.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does holding cash seem like the smart thing to do during periods of volatile stock prices like the last month or so? Why does Mr. Buffet think that holding cash is NOT so smart?
  2. Mr. Buffet’s advice is counter-intuitive to some. Buying more of something that is falling in value (American stocks) may appear unwise… but what is Buffet’s rationale for why buying now may in fact be the smartest thing for an investor to do?
  3. Does the behavior of investors on the stock market reflect the behavior of consumers in a typical product market? In other words, do the laws of supply and demand apply to the stock market? Discuss…

12 responses so far

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