Monday 21 February 2011

Did Anyone Mention Inflation?

During his term of office President Clinton attended a Gala Performance for charity at the Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C. and went backstage to meet and talk to the cast.

It was the Royal Ballet doing their signature production of “The Sleeping Beauty”. When asked what he had enjoyed about it he replied “We could do with a Lilac Fairy in The White House”.

The US media and political commentators, possibly not familiar with the plot or traditional ballet, were unsure of his meaning and there was a good deal of confusion and misinterpretation. But it was a typical blunt southern boy insight into the meaning of the work that spoke volumes.

Human affairs and especially politics are usually a chaotic and uncertain business in which things more often than not go wrong and bad decisions are made, sometimes with the best of motives, sometimes the worst.

Generations past for the most part called upon passing deities, spirits from the other world or something like fairies to help them sort out the mess. It is possible that the mindsets they developed allowed them to cope with complexity and deal better with disruptions and difficulties.

In the deep past and amongst some peoples at present there might be multiple deities sometimes little better than humans at dealing with things. Unluckily some peoples have the belief of a single God who is always right. The problem is that humans have been unable to agree on either the detail or the general purpose, so tens of millions have died in disputes.

Also, unluckily and perhaps a consequence, there is the habit of endowing political leaders and thinkers and worse still people like economists and financiers with superhuman powers that do not and will never exist. Some may be better than others and some may be luckier but when the going gets really rough all bets are off.

So if I suggest that in the current debate about inflation, deflation or stagflation all the powers that be do not really have much idea about what is going on, how, why or what they should really do may seem harsh there are some good reasons.

In the web site “Naked Capitalism”, I picked up on an item which tells us that in the money markets a key part has gone so far out of control to be a continuing cause of problems and systemic risk. If this is the case then it is really bad news.

The original abstract for the academic research is:

A commentary on it at near 3000 words is:

A few years ago the top chaps at the Bank of England realised that in the City and the major banks the balance sheets were saying there was a lot of new activity and dealings in new financial instruments that had become substantial and very big. So they arranged a lunch at which the top chaps in the banks would explain all this to them in simple terms that they might understand.

Yet again, unluckily, it appeared that the top bankers did not really know what was going on, but all the figures looked very good and pots of money were being made. This completely satisfied the Bank of England who went on to join with the bankers and the legions of financial consultants to advise New Labour that a new Golden Age was born and all they had to do was to let it rip, make a lot of money themselves and the world and the electorate would all be happy.

More or less, perhaps they should go to the ballet more often because just when they thought how lovely it was then it all went badly wrong. Now they are all running round like headless chickens trying to sort it out. But they do not know what is going on out there, the figures are mostly fiction and The Lilac Fairy and all her ilk have gone off in a sulk.

The inflation that is going on at the moment is not like any previous inflation because the structure of international finance, the real economies of most states and the way it all functions are now radically different. Nobody knows where much of the money is, where all the toxic debt has gone, how the money is really flowing around the world , who is handling it and worst of all the implications of who is dealing and what they are dealing in.

Is it possible that within the economy both inflation and deflation are present at the same time? What is a real threat at present is inflation caused by all the known and unknown money being thrown about whilst real economic growth just bumps along or worse declines.

This is called Stagflation. Remember, if population grows or government obligations grow then real economic growth has to be enough to cope with this. It is quite possible that there will be a continuing attrition of the economy to this effect.

“The Sleeping Beauty” is a ballet were good prevails and the couple wed with the suggestion that they will be happy ever after. That is until the kids become teenagers.

In the world today we have more or less put the teenagers in charge of the money.

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