Monday, December 22, 2008

Falling Prices (4) - Normal

Very few people realised that deflation should be normal. If governments did not inflate their currency, price inflation would not drop to zero. In a country where the monetary policy is neutral, the price level would gradual fall over time. A few prices might increase in response to shifts in demand, but the prices of most goods and services would fall, as new technology and economies of scale reduce the costs of production.

Declining prices are a powerful economic mechanism, because the benefits flow to everyone in the economy. People on fixed incomes benefit, because the things they have to buy get cheaper. Those who are weak and powerless benefit, because they can purchase more with what they have. Inflation benefits the few, who can work the system and know how to use debt to speculate in property. Falling prices benefit everyone.

One of the best ways to help the poor is to eliminate inflation. Even if price inflation is only three percent per year, poor people will be worse off unless they can increase their income by that amount. Poor people generally do not have sufficient political or market power to negotiate that kind of increase in their incomes, so inflation harms their situation. On the other hand, declining prices benefit the poor without any need for negotiation.

Over the last few years, cheap imports of electronics and clothing from China have been so pervasive that the level of consumer prices has generally declined slowly. This should have turned into a downward flood that brought increased prosperity to everyone, but unfortunately governments continued to inflate their currencies throughout the period. The world thinks that inflation has been low over the last few years, but that is wrong, because prices would have been falling much more, if governments had not been manipulating the money supply.

When economies of scale and technological advances should be reducing prices, even zero price inflation is harmful. Over the last decade, people on fixed incomes have been robbed of the benefits that would have come their way, by governments that have stopped prices from falling. This inflation has eased the pain of those who are heavily in debt. Inflation punished those on fixed incomes and benefits and benefits those in debt. Gradual deflation would benefit everyone, especially the poor.

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