Since the news broke that the Fed would continue its policy of expanding the monetary base by $85 billion per month, I have been hearing and reading analysts on what it means and the possible consequences.
There are some, even in the establishment, that will admit that there could be some negative consequences from continued monetary inflation. Unfortunately, almost everyone gets it wrong, or at least misses the biggest consequences.
I have heard many references to the stock market, as if the worst thing that can happen from the Fed’s policy is that the stock market takes a nose dive. This is actually what is concerning many analysts, even though most Americans don’t own individual stocks and most of the mutual fund ownership is in 401k plans. It is not that I am dismissing the stock market or that it isn’t important. But a future bust in the stock market is just the tip of the iceberg of the consequences from this disastrous Fed policy.
I have heard a few analysts discuss bonds and interest rates. Some are worried that the Fed is doing too much to prop up interest rates and that it could mean trouble in the future in the form of spiking interest rates. Some would rather see it more gradual and controlled. Of course, if we end up in a severe recession, interest rates could go down even without the Fed’s buying of government debt.
I have even heard a few analysts on television at least allude to the possibility of rising prices. This is certainly a real concern, even with the government CPI numbers relatively low at this point in time.
Now I am going to pick on my fellow libertarians. There are some libertarians (perhaps I should say most libertarians) who will say that the consequences of this Fed policy will be in the form of higher consumer prices. But this has been wrong up until now, even with the Fed’s massive expansion of the monetary base since 2008. First, it doesn’t have to be consumer prices going up. We have actually seen asset prices, such as stocks, going up far more than consumer prices.
Second, while rising prices are a concern and may be a consequence of the Fed’s monetary inflation, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.
So what is the major problem with all of this monetary inflation if price inflation stays in check? The main problem, aside from the immorality of it all, is that it misallocates resources. It directs resources into areas where it would not happen in a free market environment. It also misallocates resources in the sense that it distorts savings and investment.
As I mentioned in a recent post, money is just a medium of exchange. Creating money out of thin air, or destroying it, doesn’t in itself produce or destroy wealth. But it does affect future productivity. Production comes from savings and investment. If the Fed’s monetary inflation reduces the amount of money being saved, then this will harm future wealth production.
The important point to take away here is that we will suffer consequences from this monetary inflation, regardless of what happens with consumer prices. We have already suffered from the monetary inflation of the last 5 years. This doesn’t have to be in the form of higher prices. If price inflation stays relatively low at 2% per year, but wages stay the same, then the average American will be getting approximately 2% poorer every year. This becomes quite significant after a few years.
In conclusion, rising consumer prices is just one possible consequence of monetary inflation. But the one certain consequence is that the average American’s standard of living will be lower than it otherwise would have been.