The fiscal cliff is good news

When I started this blog I set out to write about monetary policy issues – primarily from a none-US perspective – and furthermore I am on vacation with my family in Malaysia so writing this blog post goes against everything I should do – however, after listen to five minutes of debate about the ”fiscal cliff” on CNBC tonight I simply have to write this: What is your problem? Why are you so scared about fiscal consolidation? After all this is what the fiscal cliff is – a 4-5% improvement of public finances as share of GDP.

The point is that the US government is running clearly excessive public deficits and the public debt has grown far too large so isn’t fiscal tightening exactly what you need? I think it is and the fiscal cliff ensures that. Yes, I agree tax hikes are unfortunate from a supply side perspective, but cool down a bit – it is going to have only a marginally negative impact on the long-term US growth perspective that the Bush tax cuts expiries. But more importantly the fiscal cliff would mean cuts in US defense spending. The US is spending more on military hardware than any other country in the world. It seems to me that US policy makers have not realized that the Cold War is over. You don’t need to spend 5% of GDP on bombs. In fact I believe that if the entire 4-5% fiscal consolidation were done, as cuts to US defense spending the world would probably be a better place. But that is not my choice – and it is the peace-loving libertarian rather than the economist speaking (here is a humorous take on the sad story of war). What I am saying is that the world is not coming to an end if the US defense budget is cut marginally. Paradoxically US conservatives this time around are against budget consolidation. Sad – but true.

Since September the Federal Reserve has had the Bernanke-Evans rule in place. That means basically means that the Fed will step up monetary easing in response to any increase in unemployment. Hence, if the full fiscal cliff leads to any increase in unemployment the fed will counteract that with monetary easing. So effectively the fiscal cliff means fiscal tightening and monetary easing. This of course would also be the case if the fed was a strict inflation targeting central bank – that directly follows from the Sumner critique.

Fiscal consolidation and monetary easing is this is exactly what the US had in 1990s – the best period for the US economy since WWII. By at that time a Democrat President also had to work with a Republican dominated Congress.

So no, I don’t understand what there is to fear. Lower public spending and easier monetary policy is the right medine for the US economy (yes and please throw in some structural reforms as well). If that is the fiscal cliff please bring it on. It will be good for America and good for the world. And it might even be a more peaceful world.

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PS if you are really concerned about the fiscal cliff just agree on this:

1) Cut US defense spending to 2% of GDP

2) NO tax hikes

3) Commit the fed to bring back NGDP to the pre-crisis trend level through QE

Update: My version (second and third!) version of this post had an incredible amount of typos – sorry for that. I have now cleaned it up a bit.

Update 2: David Glasner also comments on the fiscal issue – David agrees with me in theory, but is more worried about the what the fed will do in the real world. When David is saying something I always listen. David is a real voice of reason – often also of moderation. That said, I strongly believe the Sumner Critique is correct. NGDP is determined by monetary policy and not by fiscal policy – so if the fiscal cliff will lead to a recession the fed will be to blame and not the US politicians (they are to blame for a lot of other things…).

Argentina’s hidden inflation – another case of the horrors of price controls

In my previous post I discussed how price controls likely have created a wedge between inflation measured by CPI and by the GDP deflator in Malaysia. That made me think – can we find other examples of this in the world? And sure thing the story of Argentina’s inflation over the last decade seem to be more or less the same thing.

The graph below shows Argentine inflation measured by CPI and the GDP deflator since 2002. The difference is very easy to spot.

It is very clear that until 2005 the two measures of inflation tracks each other quite closely, but from 2005 a difference opens up. So what happened in 2005? Well, the story is exactly as in Malaysia – monetary policy is inflationary and the government tries to curb inflation not by printing less money, but by introducing price controls.

Here is a story from Bloomberg November 24 2005:

Argentine President Nestor Kirchner accused supermarkets of price fixing and said he would increase controls to slow a surge in inflation.

Kirchner, in a televised speech at the presidential palace, said agreements between supermarkets such as Coto CISA SA and Hipermercados Jumbo SA, a unit of Chilean retailer Cencosud SA, to increase prices would lead to 12 percent inflation next year. In the 12 months through October Argentina’s consumer prices rose 10.7 percent, the fastest rate of increase in 29 months.

“We will fight to defend consumers’ pockets,” Kirchner said, without specifying how he would slow price increases.

The accusation underscores the government’s concern over quickening inflation, which may increase poverty in a country where almost 50 percent of the population cannot afford to cover their food and other basic needs, said economist Rafael Ber of Argentine Research brokers in Buenos Aires.

Rising prices may also hurt the ability of Argentine producers to compete with foreign goods, Ber said.

Kirchner has already attacked private companies for increasing prices. In April, he called on consumers to boycott The Royal Dutch Shell Group after the energy company increased prices.

So there you go – price controls in response to inflation. That is never good news and the result has been the same in Argentina as in Malaysia (actually it is much worse) – shortages (See also my previous discussion of food shortages in Venezuela and Argentina here).

Price controls always have the same impact – shortages – and if you think Malaysia and Argentina are the only countries in the world to make this kind of policy mistakes think again. Here is from the US, where a Republican governor these days is experimenting with price controls and the result is the same as in Argentina and Malaysia – shortages!

PS it should be noted that the Argentine inflation data very likely is manipulated so there is more to it than just price controls – we also has a case of the books being cooked. See more on that here.

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