Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Government Needs a Primer on Money

When you ask the average person what inflation is, they will tell you "high prices." This is like saying that a person with pneumonia merely has a fever. Both are partial descriptions, but very incomplete.

Inflation is more accurately described as "too much money chasing too few goods." Simply put, as we increase the supply of money but not the productivity you have higher prices and so much more. The hundreds of billions (and now trillion plus) that is being spent by the government for bailouts will come from printing money, as well as other sources. Currently, twenty percent of every tax dollar goes to paying the interest on the debt. That makes printing money more attractive, in spite of the potentially negative consequence, and those consequences are significant.

  • Such pumping of money into the economy will lead to a massive devaluation of the currency over time and a significant increase in prices.

  • Wages will grow artificially high, which will lead to many moving into higher tax brackets even as the value of their income declines.

  • There will be an obvious need to increase interest rates, regardless of where the government sets them, because businesses have to make sure that what they receive back is more than what they loaned or provided in credit. This is one of the reasons why interest rates have not gone down for consumers and others, although they have gone down for lenders. It is not mere selfish greed, but self interest in protecting their share holders.

  • New businesses will find it more difficult to start up because of the perceived decrease in its future value, because of the instability of the money supply. These business will find it difficult to find investors, markets, or any future at all.

The bottom line is that calling inflation "high prices" simply does not give this major problem justice. Unfortunately, I am fairly confident that many, if not most Americans are unaware of how far reaching inflation can be. I have heard people say, "why doesn't government just print money to solve deficit and other problems?" If a large quantity of money made people rich, Zimbabwe, Guinea, and Yemen should be among the richest countries in the world. They are not, in fact they are among the weakest, and they also have the highest inflation.

Pouring more money on this economy is the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire. The projected long term consequences could be devastating.

Kevin Price is a syndicated columnist whose articles frequently appear at ChicagoSunTimes.com, Reuters.com, USAToday.com, and other national media. Kevin Price is Host of the Price of Business (M-F at 11 AM on CNN 650) and Publisher of the Houston Business Review. Hear the show live and online at PriceofBusiness.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.

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