Thursday, August 18, 2011

Monetary Inflation Benefits Those Who Get the New Money First

Money is not neutral. The premise of the neutrality of money asserts that when the stock of money changes, the only result is a change in overall prices, such that real economic conditions remained unchanged. It has been argued, therefore, that all of this monetary inflation we've had over the past several decades has had no real negative impact on standard of living  for people. Prices have rise, but so has our monetary incomes, so we are left no worse off.

While it is true that there is no general social benefit from monetary inflation, it is not true that money is neutral. As Mises explains the consequences of monetary inflation:
The additional quantity of money does not find its way at first into the pockets of all individuals; not every individual of those benefited first gets the same amount and not every individual reacts to the same additional quantity in the same way. Those first benefited? In the case of gold, the owners of the mines, in the case of government paper money, the treasury now have greater cash holdings and they are now in a position to offer more money on the market for goods and services they wish to buy. The additional amount of money offered by them on the market makes prices and wages go up. But not all the prices and wages rise, and those which do rise do not rise to the same degree. If the additional money is spent for military purposes, the prices of some commodities only and the wages of only some kinds of labor rise, others remain unchanged or may even temporarily fall. They may fall because there are now on the market some groups of men whose incomes have not risen but who nevertheless are obliged to pay more for some commodities, namely for those asked by the men first benefited by the inflation. Thus, price changes which are the result of the inflation start with some commodities and services only, and are diffused more or less slowly from one group to the others. It takes time till the additional quantity of money has exhausted all its price changing possibilities. But even in the end the different commodities are not affected to the same extent. The process of progressive depreciation has changed the income and the wealth of the different social groups. As long as this depreciation is still going on, as long as the additional quantity of money has not yet exhausted all its possibilities of influencing prices, as long as there are still prices left unchanged at all or not yet changed to the extent that they will be, there are in the community some groups favored and some at a disadvantage. Those selling the commodities or services whose prices rise first are in a position to sell at the new higher prices and to buy what they want to buy at the old still unchanged prices. On the other hand, those who sell commodities or services whose prices remain for some time unchanged are selling at the old prices whereas they already have to buy at the new higher prices. The former are making a specific gain, they are profiteers, the latter are losing, they are the losers, out of whose pockets the extra-gains of the profiteers must come. As long as the inflation is in progress, there is a perpetual shift in income and wealth from some social group, to other social groups. When all price consequences of the inflation are consummated, a transfer of wealth between social groups has taken place. The result is that there is in the economic system a new dispersion of wealth and income and in this new social order the wants of individuals are satisfied to different relative degrees, than formerly. Prices in this new order can not simply be a multiple of the previous prices.

This phenomena is being played out right now in front of our very eyes. The New York Times reports that sales of luxury goods are recovering strong, even with price mark ups! Notice this very revealing passage pinpointing the cause of the new luxury good boom:
What changed? Mostly, the stock market, retailers and analysts said, as well as a good bit of shopping psychology. Even with the sharp drop in stocks over the last week, the Dow Jones is up about 80 percent from its low in March 2009. And with the overall economy nowhere near its recession lows, buying nice, expensive things is back in vogue for people who can afford it.
Perhaps the above thinking is partly to explain Bernanke's recent pronouncement of future monetary profligacy. If the Fed can bolster equity prices again, consumer spending will be further stimulated and the "economy" will receive the elusive "jump start" the Fed has been trying to initiate. Of course, on the other hand, pesky reality and economic law will continue to assert themselves.

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