The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released their monthly index of food prices yesterday (January 5, 2011) which showed that the index reached a record high in December 2010 “surpassing the levels of 2008 when the cost of food sparked riots around the world, and prompting warnings of prices being in “danger territory”” (Source). There are several reasons why food prices will move even higher – the catastrophic floods in Northern Queensland being among them. The rising food prices are once again leading to calls for interest rates to rise in order to minimise the inflationary consequences. That motivated me to write Part 2 of my series on inflation – in this case supply-side motivated inflations. In Part 1 of the series – Modern monetary theory and inflation – Part 1 – I concentrated on demand-side origins.
When does the word down mean down? Answer for all of us mortal folks: when something is consistently pointing downwards. Answer for the bank economists: never when it is applied to movements in the Consumer Price Index – down means up. The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Index, Australia data for the September 2010 quarter yesterday and it showed that inflation is moderate and falling. Over the last week, the bank economists ran their usual line – they were predicting spikes in the inflation rate and thus the absolute necessity for increasing interest rates at the next RBA meeting. As usual they were wrong. The reality is that the Australian economy is not overheating and it is still a long way from being at full capacity. Some sectors are growing strongly (mining) but that unlikely to create significant cost pressures elsewhere in the economy given the amount of labour slack. I have a tip for the bank economists. They should come out next month/quarter and say exactly the opposite to what they typically would say – and they will probably get it right. At least while they are worrying themselves sick about the course of inflation they are not screaming about the deficit being too big.
On July 20, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) published the Minutes of its last board meeting (July 6, 2010). This caused headlines for the day – the journalists must have been bored that day – because it raised the possibility that the RBA would increase interest rates in August – right in the middle of an election campaign (the federal election is late August). The bank economists as usual predicted rising rates and significant spikes in the inflation rate. Well today the the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Index, Australia data for the June quarter and it showed that inflation is moderate and falling. The market economists were “surprised”. I wonder if their organisations have any money dependent on the judgement of their economists? I wouldn’t bet a cent on the basis of their opinions. They continually make false predictions on the outcomes of all the major data releases – always claiming that the economy is overheating and that fiscal support has to be withdrawn. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
It regularly comes up in the comments section that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) lacks a concern for inflation. That somehow we ignore the inflation risk. One of the surprising aspects of the public debate as the current economic crisis unfolded was the repetitive concern that people had about inflation. There concerns echoed at the same time as the real economy in almost every nation collapsed, capacity utilisation rates were going down below 70 per cent and more in most nations and unemployment was sky-rocketing. But still the inflation anxiety was regularly being voiced. These commentators could not believe that rising budget deficits or a significant build-up of bank reserves do not inevitably cause inflation. The fact is that in voicing those concerns just tells me they never really understand how the monetary system operates. Further in suggesting the MMT lacks a concern for inflation those making these statements belie their own lack of research. Full employment and price stability is at the heart of MMT. The body of theory and policy applications that stem from that theory integrate the notion of a nominal anchor as a core element. That is what this blog is about.