Inflation Is Broken

Housing vs. Shelter
Assumed Supply
Broken Inflation
Painful Solution
What Will Inflation Be?
What’s in Your Investment Kitchen?
Puerto Rico and the Future of Travel Plus SIC

I have been writing for many years that the US in particular and the Western “developed” world in general were approaching a time where none of our choices would be good.

We have arrived. Any choice the government and central banks of the US and the rest of the world make will ultimately lead to a crisis. Just as the choices that Greenspan and Bernanke made about monetary policy created the Great Recession, Yellen and Powell’s choices will eventually lead us to the next crisis and ultimately to what I call The Great Reset.

I believe we have passed the point of no return. Changing policy now would create a recession as big as Paul Volcker’s in the early ‘80s. There is simply no appetite for that. Further, the national debt and continued yearly deficits force monetary policy to stay accommodative.

Today we will look at these problems through the lens of inflation. In general, consumers agree inflation is undesirable. They don’t want the prices of things they buy to go up.

But let’s talk about academics and central bankers. A little inflation makes sense from their viewpoint. They want to always have room to cut interest rates, should the economy falter. They would prefer to avoid negative interest rates. They need “normal” interest rates a comfortable distance above zero. That’s hard to maintain unless the economy has some degree of inflation. So, they tolerate a little inflation and, when necessary, actually encourage it.

But this raises another question: How do central bankers, or anyone else, actually know how much inflation exists? They depend on data, and data can be twisted, misinterpreted, or just plain wrong. Sometimes all at once.

I touched on this problem last week in Everything Is Broken. So much of our broken economy is the result of broken monetary policy, resulting from broken data. This affects everything. If Federal Reserve officials think inflation is low when it’s actually high, or vice versa, they will set interest rates too high or low. Governments, businesses, and consumers will all make similarly bad decisions, all of which will eventually coalesce into a catastrophe like the Great Recession. And it will all trace back to a data problem.

Inflation is far from the only data problem but it is probably the most consequential. So today we’ll dive deeper into this subject. Our distorted inflation data has a lot to do with housing “prices.” I use quote marks there because price may not be the right word, as you will see.