Why Debt Won’t Spark Inflation

Missing Inflation

Debt Rubicon

Velocity Falling

The Complex Debt and Currency Dance

“Too High and Getting Wider”

They Shall Not Grow Old

Modern technology was supposed to make travel less necessary. We can meet by phone, video, and now in virtual reality. But we’re still traveling more than ever. I certainly am.

The reason is simple: Technology can’t yet replace face-to-face conversation, and especially group conversations. It is genetically hardwired in our species. We spend more time on the phone and Skype than ever but technology also makes information more complex and nuanced. Conveying it often requires a personal presence, so we fly around and talk in person.

I thought of that last week at the Strategic Investment Conference. I’ve been writing about “Japanification” of the developed world economy, explaining what I mean by that as best I can in these letters. But in talking to conference attendees, I found that I have not effectively communicated some of the nuances.

To be clear, I don’t want Japanification, nor do I think it will deliver the desired results. I believe that in the next recession…

  • Policymakers will respond with massive fiscal and monetary stimulus, and
  • Instead of producing growth, it will depress growth and leave us all in the same morass Japan has endured for almost three decades.

In other words, I believe that both government and central banks will try Japanification (of course under other names) but I don’t expect it to work in the way they would hope.

When faced with the imminent possibility of recession, depression, or even a crash, authorities will try to do something but they will have very few choices. The “default” option of ever larger stimulus will kick in. So, like Japan, the US will see yet more quantitative easing and extraordinarily low interest rates, along with annual federal deficits of $2 trillion and higher. Alternatives like restructuring the tax code and balancing the budget will be nowhere in sight.

At best, this “process” will result in an even slower-growing economy and avoid total meltdown. That’s the optimistic view. Given what I understand today about the political and economic realities as I see them, I also believe that it is the most likely scenario. The others are much darker.

However, I also believe there is an “off-ramp” that could short-circuit the Japanification effect, leading to something closer to “normal.” More on that below.

Today I want to go deeper into the intellectual and academic rationale behind this outlook. Dr. Lacy Hunt has long been an enormous influence on my understanding of economics. In this letter I’ll discuss his latest ideas. I should note that any errors are mine and not his fault.

Lacy briefly presented two theorems at the SIC. After his scholarly lecture (that’s really what it was), I brought up my favorite central banker and former BIS chief economist Bill White. The three of us had possibly the most stimulating discussion of the whole conference (at least for me). You can (and should) view it all on our Virtual Pass but I’ll share some highlights below.

This is important and you need to understand it, because it is the exact opposite of what many people think.