While mass media tend to call any increase in prices “inflation” the definition of inflation is simply “the decline of purchasing power of a given currency over time.”(1) Economist Milton Friedman explained: “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon, in the sense that it is and can be produced only by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output.”
How does the quantity of money increase? While counterfeiting can increase money supply on a small scale (e.g. suddenly your small town store has a few people coming in with a lot more $20 bills than usual) only governments are big enough to cause inflation on a large scale. The Federal Reserve can adjust interest rates and thus expand or contract the money supply. Congress can cause inflation by borrowing from the future and spending money in the present (e.g. the “covid stimulus” checks.)
When an economy is growing, wealth is created and the money supply can naturally increase to reflect the increase in wealth. Inflation occurs when new money is created without a corresponding increase in real wealth. Imagine a town in which burgers cost $2 and most people buy 2 burgers a week. What if everyone suddenly got an extra $500 “free” from the government, but the burger joint still had the same number of hamburgers per week? Either the burger joint would sell out quickly because everyone bought more burgers, or the restaurant would raise prices until demand for burgers was in balance with supply again. The wealth (burgers) remained the same, but the money supply was artificially increased. This caused real purchasing power per dollar to decline.
Inflation, a monetary phenomenon, should not be confused with temporary price increases caused by supply shocks. An example of a supply shock would be disruptions such as an ice storm or hurricane disrupting shipments of goods or a disease destroying crops or herds. In the case of supply shocks, the prices will normalize after the disruption is over. In the case of inflation, savers lose as their savings lose purchasing power. Governments win in the short term because borrowers (like the government) benefit from inflation. The money they are paying back is worth less than the money they borrowed. This makes inflation a convenient “hidden tax” enabling government to continue its profligate ways while taxpayers pay taxes on higher wages that are worth less than the lower wages they made before inflation.
The current hard times are the result of both inflation (government spending borrowed money on an ever more massive scale) and supply shocks (government disrupting both manufacturing and distribution during covid hysteria, then curtailing abundant domestic energy production in favor of importing from foreign dictatorships.) Money is worth less while prices rise.
Now for the good news: there are ways to adapt and survive in an inflationary environment. Here are some ways to resist inflation as an investor, a producer, and a consumer.
Investors traditionally hedge against inflation by shifting their investment mix to things like precious metals and other things likely to increase in value as fast as or faster than inflation. Real estate is usually part of this strategy. Some investors diversify even further into collectibles such as fine art or rare coins, but do this only if you have specific expertise in the area of the investment.
As a producer, your focus must be to cut waste and minimize expenses while maintaining your business and perhaps even growing it. Adapt to the needs of people with less purchasing power. Offer superior customer service and quality so you will survive to see better days again. Shorten your supply chains where possible by buying locally. Invest time in developing your employees, if you are an employer, so they can be more versatile and productive.
As a consumer, be sure to have adequate supplies for your household. One simple strategy for building up your stores is to purchase multiples of anything you regularly use whenever those things are on sale. Buy low so you can use from your storage when prices get higher. Learn to maintain and repair things around your home. Network with people in your community so you can help each other when times are hard. If you are a welder and your neighbor is a dressmaker or a beekeeper, you can work out mutually beneficial arrangements. Although inflation tends to penalize savers more than borrowers, do not take that as an excuse to run up credit cards. Avoid taking on additional debt in bad times, as it only makes things worse.
Inflation is here now. You can survive and even thrive in spite of it. You can also hold your government accountable for the role it plays in the current economic troubles.
#Inflation #HiddenTax #MiltonFriedman
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