Economists love debating the reasons for inflation. Many argue that money supply alone can result in inflation, whereas others believe it is down to capacity constraints in an economy or advancements in technology. The reality is that the causes of inflation are immensely diverse and one reason is never the sole contributor, nor is there a unique common cause of inflation in previous hyperinflationary times.
Instead, hyperinflation is typically caused by a very severe exogenous shock, that then usually forces policymakers to take overly aggressive action in order to overcome their difficulties.
War, the collapse of regimes and currency pegs all feature as severe shocks in previous cases of hyperinflation. Clearly we have none of these yet, but the credit crisis was as close to a severe shock as one could possibly imagine. And how have policymakers responded? Br printing money. We are now 5 years into the crisis and the rate a which central banks globally are printing money is only accelerating.
So why haven’t we seen hyperinflation yet?
It takes time. For the last 40 years Monetary supply in the US (M2) has been growing at an average pace of about 6.75% a year vs. average annual inflation of 4.3%. Clearly the increasingly efficient economy and advancement of technology of the past 40 years have been deflationary enough to keep the CPI below money supply. John Edwards, of Shadowstats, argues that M3 is a better indication of inflationary expectations but sadly the US stopped reporting this some years ago.
In any case, if we overlay the monetary base chart over the M2 chart, it is clear that 4 years ago these decoupled SUBSTANTIALLY! This is the effect of QE which has essentially flooded the US monetary base with newly created dollars. It takes time but this will eventually feed through to M2.
As it does feed through, prices have to re-adjust (i.e. rise) as people’s perception of the value of that currency diminishes. As trust in a currency’s value disappears, so do people’s willingness to hold onto it, opting instead for alternative currencies or real goods such as property, gold etc, once again compounding the effects of rising prices. And so the spiral goes.
I have no doubt the FED intends to halt QE before we get close to this. But as every episode in history has suggested once the floodgates are opened it is very very difficult to close them again.
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