The Chicago School of Economics

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 5th, 2012

Economics 101

Monetarists believe in Laissez-Faire Capitalism and Fiat Money

Keynesian economics supports hands-on government management of the economy.  Using fiscal and monetary policy to move the aggregate demand curve at will to end business cycles.  The boom bust cycles between inflation and recession.  Leaving only the inflationary boom times.   Using tax and spend fiscal policies.  Or simply printing money for government expenditures.  For in Keynesian economics consumption is key.  The more of it the better.  And when people stop buying things the government should step in and pick up the consumption slack.

The Austrian school is a more hands-off approach.  The markets should be free.  Laissez-faire capitalism.  And the business cycle should remain.  For it is a necessary part of the economy.  Part of the automatic pricing mechanism that adjusts supply to meet demand.  When people demand more prices go up.  Encouraging businesses to expand production to sell at these higher prices (inflationary expansion).  Then when supply exceeds demand businesses have excessive inventory that they can’t sell anymore at those higher prices.  So they cut their prices to sell off this excessive supply (deflationary recession).  Also, that hands-off approach means no playing with monetary policy.  Austrians prefer a gold standard to prevent central bank mischief that results in inflation.

The Chicago school of economics takes a little from each of these schools.  Like the Austrians they believe that government should take a hands-off approach in the economy.  Markets should be free with minimum government intervention.  But unlike Austrians, they hate gold.  And blame the gold standard for causing the Great Depression.  Instead, they believe in the flexibility of fiat money.  As do the Keynesians.  But with a strict monetary policy to minimize inflation (which is why proponents of this school were also called monetarists).  Unlike the Keynesians.  For monetarists believe only a government’s monetary policy can cause runaway inflation.

(This is a gross simplification of these three schools.  A more detailed and comprehensive study would be a bit overwhelming as well as extremely boring.  But you get the gist.  At least, for the point of this discussion.)

We used Gold and Silver for Money because it was Durable, Portable, Divisible, Fungible, Scarce, Etc.

At the heart of the difference between these schools is money.  So a refresher course on money is in order.  Money stores wealth temporarily.  When we create something of value (a good or a service) we can use that value to trade for something we want.  We used to barter with other creative people who made value of their own.  But as the economy got more complex it took more and more time to find people to trade with.  You had to find someone who had what you wanted who also wanted what you had.  If you baked bread and wanted shoes you had to find a shoemaker who wanted bread.  Not impossible.  But it took a lot of time to find these people to trade with.

Then someone had a brilliant idea.  They figured they could trade their good or service NOT for something THEY wanted but something OTHER people would want.  Such as tobacco.  Whiskey.  Or grain.  These things were valuable.  Other people would want them.  So they could easily trade their good or service for one of these things.  And then later trade it for what they wanted.  And money was born.  For various reasons (durable, portable, divisible, fungible, scarce, etc.) we chose gold and silver as our money of choice.  Due to the inconvenience and danger of carrying these precious metals around, though, we stored our precious metals in a vault and used ‘receipts’ of that deposit as currency.  And the gold standard was born.

To understand the gold standard think of a balance scale.  The kind where you put weights on one side to balance the load on the other.  When the scale balances the weight of the load equals the sum of the weights needed to make the scale balance.  Now imagine a scale like this where the VALUE of all goods and services (created by talented people) are on one side.  And all the precious metal in the gold standard are on the other.  These must be in balance.  And the sum of our currency must equal the amount of precious metal.  (Because they are ‘receipts’ for all that gold and silver we have locked up someplace.)  This prevents the government from creating inflation.  If you want to issue more money you have to put more precious metal onto the scale.  You just can’t print money.  For when you do and you don’t increase the amount of precious metal on the scale you depreciate the currency.  Because more of it equals the same amount of precious metal.  For more currency to equal the same amount of precious metal then each unit of currency has to be worth less.  And when each unit is worth less it takes more of them to buy the same things they bought before.  Thus raising prices.  If a government prints more currency without adding more precious metals on the scale they increase the value of that precious metal when MEASURED in that currency.  It becomes worth more.  In other words, you can trade that precious metal for more of that depreciated currency than before they depreciated it.  You do this too much and eventually people will prefer the precious metal over the currency.  They’ll lose faith in the currency.  And when that happens the economy collapses.  As people move back towards a barter system.

Milton Friedman wanted the Responsibility of the Gold Standard without Gold’s Constraint on increasing the Money Supply

A healthy economy needs a stable currency.  One that people don’t lose faith in.  Imagine trying to shop without money.  Instead, taking things to trade for the groceries you need.  Not very efficient.  So we need a stable currency.  And the gold standard gives us that.  However, the thing that makes gold or silver a stable currency, its scarcity, creates a liability.  Let’s go back to that balance scale.  To the side that contains the value of all goods and services.  Let’s say it increases.  But the precious metal on the other side doesn’t.  Which means the value of that precious metal increases.  The currency must equal the value of that precious metal.  So the value of the currency increases.  And prices fall.  It takes less of it to buy the same things it bought before.  Not a bad thing for consumers.  But it plays havoc with those who borrowed money before this appreciation.  Because they now have to repay money that is worth more than when what is was worth when they borrowed it.  Which hurt farmers during the 1920s.  Who borrowed a lot of money to mechanize their farms.  Which helped to greatly increase farm yields.  And increased food supplies while demand remained unchanged.  Which, of course, lowered farm prices.  The supply increased on the scale.  But the amount of gold didn’t.  Thus increasing the value of the gold.  And the currency.  Making prices fall.  Kicking off the deflationary spiral of the Great Depression.  Or so say the monetarists.

Now the monetarists wanted to get rid of the gold supply.  The Keynesians did, too.  But they wanted to do it so they could print and spend money.  Which they did during the Seventies.  Creating both a high unemployment rate and a high inflation rate.  Something that wasn’t supposed to happen in Keynesian economics.  For their solution to fix unemployment was to use inflation to stimulate aggregate demand in the economy.  Thus reducing unemployment.  But when they did this during the Seventies it didn’t work.  The Keynesians were befuddled.  But not the monetarists.  Who understood that the expansion of the money supply (printing money to spend) was responsible for that inflation.  People understood this, too.  And had rational expectations of how that Keynesian policy was going to end.  Higher prices.  So they raised prices before the stimulus could impact unemployment.  To stay ahead of the coming inflation.  So the Keynesian stimulus did nothing to reduce unemployment.  It just caused runaway inflation.  And raised consumer prices.  Which, in turn, decreased economic activity.  And further increased unemployment.

Perhaps the most well known economist in the Chicago school was Milton Friedman.  Who wanted the responsibility of the gold standard.  But without gold’s constraint on increasing the money supply to meet demand.  The key to monetarism.  To increase the money supply to match the growth in the economy.  To keep that scale balanced.  But without gold.  Instead, putting the money supply directly on the scale.  Printing fiat money as needed.  Great power.  But with great power comes great responsibility.  And if you abuse that power (as in printing money irresponsibly) the consequences of that abuse will be swift.  Thanks to the rational expectations of the people.  Another tenet of the Chicago school.

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The Bank of India to Reverse its Monetary tightening and Resume Inflationary Expansion

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 4th, 2012

Week in Review

After battling inflation in India for over a year the Bank of India is ready to reverse course.  To halt the decline in their export market growth rate.  With some inflationary Keynesian policy (see Factory growth eases, but keeps healthy pace in Feb by Sumanta Dey posted 3/1/2012 on Reuters).

…employment contracted for the first time in three months and export orders grew at their slowest pace since November…

Price pressures also rose, with the sub-index for output prices, or the cost of finished products, hitting an 11-month high, and the survey suggests inflation could tick up.

A fall in the headline inflation, as measured by the wholesale price index, to 6.55 percent in January, its lowest level in more than two years, had raised expectations the Reserve Bank of India could start easing policy.

After 13 rate rises to stamp out inflation in between March 2010 and October 2011, the central bank signalled in January it was shifting its focus to growth by cutting the cash reserve requirements for banks by 50 basis points.

Clearly with falling export orders the rise in prices isn’t due to demand.  This rise in prices is inflation driven.  Something they’re no stranger to in India.  And something very Keynesian.  Thirteen interest rate hikes in about 19 months?  That’s about one rate increase every month and a half.  That’s some serious monetary tightening.  And now that inflation is down to 6.55% they’re ready to ease policy.  With some inflationary policy.  By lowering bank reserve requirements.  To expand the money supply via fractional reserve banking.  Which will, no doubt, increase prices further.  As inflation tends to do.

By lowering interest rates they are encouraging Indian manufacturing to borrow and expand production.  To meet a falling demand.  And what happens when businesses expand production amidst a falling demand?  Well, in Japan and the United States that resulted in some nasty asset bubbles.  That brought on some long and unpleasant deflation.  Will this happen in India?  It could.  And may.  Unless some markets open up to absorb any increase in supply.  But with the European Union and the United States still limping along and a Chinese export market competing head to head with the Indians, that’s not likely going to happen.

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Inflation and Deflation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 26th, 2011

Economics 101

When Demand is Greater than Supply there’s Inflation, when Supply is greater there is Deflation

Agriculture advances gave us food surpluses.  Food surpluses gave us a division of labor.  The division of labor gave us trade.  Money made that trade more efficient.  Religion and the Rule of Law allowed great gatherings of people to live and work together in urban settings.  Free trade let us maximize this economic output and elevated our standard of living.  Free labor sustained economic growth by increasing the number of people making economic exchanges.  Prices automated the process of assigning value and allocating scarce resources (that have alternative uses).  And provided incentive and competition.  The free movement of prices in our economy, then, is very important.  So important that we track extremes in these movements and give them special names.  Inflation.  And deflation.

When the economy is good we typically see prices increase.  Because the greater amount of economic activity is competing for the same scarce resources.  So businesses ‘bid’ up the price of these scarce resources.  To make sure they get what they need before someone else beats them to them.  This more intense competition for these resources causes their prices to rise.  We call this inflation.  Telling other suppliers that demand is greater than the current supply.  This encourages suppliers to bring more supplies to market.  And attracts others into the market.  As this happens the available supply of these scarce resources increases.  And approaches the level of demand.  Where prices then stabilize.

This is the free market correcting prices.  Prices were high because demand was greater than supply.  When supply caught up to demand they stopped rising.  And if supply continues to grow and exceeds demand they will start falling.  Because those scarce resources won’t be so scarce anymore.  Which happens when people bring too much supply to market.  Of course they have no way of knowing this.  Until the prices tell them so.  Falling prices, then, are a signal that supply has exceeded demand.  So suppliers scale back on what they bring to market.  We call this fall in prices deflation.  And when supply drops at or below demand the price correction is complete.  And prices stop falling.

When Government Interferes with Market Prices we can get Bubbles where both Prices and Supply are High

This price-correction deflation goes by another name.  Recession.  And we call this inflation/deflation cycle the business cycle.  Often referred to as a boom-bust cycle.  Times are good on the inflation side.  But not so good on the deflation side.  Because recessions aren’t fun.  Unless you like periods of high unemployment.  But it’s a natural and necessary part of the business cycle.  It’s how the free market corrects prices.  Allocates scarce resources that have alternative uses.  And provides incentive and competition.  Everything that makes free market capitalism function.  Providing the highest standard of living man has ever known.

But some in government like to tinker.  They think why not make the inflation part last longer?  And try to end the deflation part?  So they play with the tools at their disposal.  Monetary policy.  Fiscal policy.  And regulatory policy.  To stimulate demand beyond what the market is demanding.  To keep the good times rolling.  Where we live with permanent but ‘manageable’ inflation.  And avoid deflationary periods all together.  And recessions.  Sounds good.  In theory, at least.  But it rarely ends well when the government interferes with market prices.

When they interfere with market prices they give false information to those in the market.  Continued inflation means continued high prices.  Prices go even higher than they would have if left to market forces.  Indicating a high demand when there is none.  So suppliers rush in to meet this false demand.  Greatly increasing supply beyond demand.  Creating what we call a bubble.  Where both prices and supply are high.  An artificial creation.  And one that cannot last.  And when prices do correct they have a lot farther to fall.  As excess supply is sold off at discount prices.  And employers cut back and shed excess capacity.  Creating high levels of unemployment.  And a long and unpleasant recession until prices finally stabilize once again.  When supply once again matches demand.

The More we try to Eliminate the Deflationary Side of the Business Cycle the More Painful the Recession

Interestingly, government interference into the free market was to eliminate the business cycle.  Especially the unpleasant deflationary side of it.  But their actions only made the deflationary side far more painful.  Because it was their actions that created those inflationary bubbles.  Not the market.  Their actions only delayed the inevitable market correction.  It couldn’t stop it.  Nothing can.  The more they tried the bigger the bubbles they created.  And the bigger the bubble the bigger the correction.  And the more painful the recession.

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