Inflation or Deflation?

That was the title of a talk this evening by UCGSB Booth School prof John Cochrane.  “I don’t make forecasts,” he said, “but I can offer scenarios.”  He actually offered only one scenario, which is basically one of inflation.  We are all aware of the huge and growing federal debt, but it’s much smaller relative to GDP than it was in 1945.  So how have the feds paid off big debts?  Thru growth.

But we’re not growing, and future growth will be difficult if taxes are increased.  And it seems the bailout pattern is continuing, so who knows how high the debt might go? So inflation seems more likely than the opposite.  Cochrane pointed out that inflation is based on what people anticipate rather than actual events, and noted that Japan continues to experience little inflation despite a large debt.

Of course, he apparently didn’t consider the possibility that taxes might be raised on things not produced by people.


(1) He acknowledged that the Phillips Curve, the alleged inflation-unemployment tradeoff, isn’t supported by actual data over the past several decades, and showed a couple of charts illustrating this.

(2) Why he isn’t making a forecast: “I’m an economist; I don’t know anything about political will.”

(3) “Every economist I know [apparently including himself] is buying TIPS [Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities].” If that turns out to have been a smart strategy, I guess we should assume that economists are able to advise themselves better than they can the rest of us.

(4) Reportedly, the talk will be posted somewhere, probably around here, in a few days.

Does CPI show land price declines?

Of course the consumer price index, out this morning, doesn’t show land prices or land rents.  That is, cost of getting access to land is buried in all the other figures.

Much is being made of the year-to-year decline, which is largely due to the drop in petroleum (and gasoline) prices.  Of course this is reflected in housing costs, which include an energy component.  But the main piece of housing costs is “shelter cost.”  Under this, “rent” and “owner equivalent rent” increased 3.2% and 2.1%, respectively.  Because most Americans are “homeowners,”  the latter figure has a large impact on the total CPI.  The actual cost of purchasing a house and lot may have declined, but the CPI’s housing cost is based on what you might have to pay to rent a unit like the one you are buying.

The price of used cars also dropped, probably because fewer people are interested in buying one.  But the cost of what BLS calls “education” increased 5.6%.

For some reason BLS seems not to have yet posted the sub-national data.

Racism and land value taxation

Prosper Australia exec Gavin Putland has written an insightful analysis (“Still on the Mountaintop”) of how a policy of taxing productive activity almost guarantees, under American conditions, that blacks will suffer economic discrimination and be overrepresented among the poor and unemployed. The link is thru NAIRU, which requires a substantial level of unemployment in order to prevent ruinous inflation.

“full employment” means enough unemployment to cause enough wage restraint to give stable inflation. So we’re living in a system of enforced failure. A percentage of people have to be unemployed, and therefore, at the boundaries of unemployment, another percentage of people have to be underemployed or intermittently employed or precariously employed. In other words, the economy is being run in such a way that a certain percentage of people have to be losers.

He explains what seem logical reasons why Africian Americans, rather than other minorities or the entire labour force, bear this burden. The solution is to tax “land-like assets” instead of “house-like assets” and the work that goes to produce them, resulting in increased employment opportunities with less inflation, among other benefits. The piece includes detailed explanation of why even landowners will be better off under this reform.

Even experienced Georgists will benefit from reading Putland’s accessible explanation.