09 June 2009

Price, Demand, and Money Supply as They Relate to Inflation and Deflation

There are three basic inputs to the market price of something:

1. Level of Aggregate Supply
2. Level of Aggregate Demand
3. Relative Value (purchasing power) of the Medium of Exchange

Let's consider supply and demand first, since they are the most intuitively obvious.

The market presents an overall demand, and within that demand for individual products in particular.

Supply is the second key component to price. We are not going to go into more detail on it since what we are facing now is a decrease in Aggregate Demand.

It can seem a little confusing perhaps. Just keep in mind that if the aggregate demand decreases for goods and services for whatever reasons, such as severe unemployment, and supply remains available then prices will drop overall, with some variance across products because of their differing elasticity to price changes.

This is known as the Law of Supply and Demand.

How we do know when aggregate Demand is decreasing?

Gross Domestic Product = Consumption + Investment + Government spending + (exports − imports),
or the famous economic equation GDP = C + I + G + (X − M).

Consumption, or Aggregate Demand, is a measurable and key component of our GDP figures.

Given the huge slump in GDP, it should be obvious that we are in a demand driven price deflation on many goods and services. People are saving more and consuming less.

Now, that covers supply and demand as components of price, but what about money?


Notice in the above examples we talk about Price as a value without a label.

Money is a medium of exchange. It is the label which we apply to give a meaning to our economic transactions.

If you are in England, or France, or Argentina, or China, the value label you apply to Price is going to be different according to local laws and customs.

Money is the predominant medium of exchange that a group of people have agreed to use when engaging in economic transactions that are not based on pure trading of goods, known as barter.

The source and store of wealth are the 'credits' within the system which one uses to exchange for products. The money is the medium of exchange.

If you work for a living, you are exchanging your time and your talent, which is your source of wealth, for products. The way in which this is labeled and facilitated in the United States is through the US dollar. I n Russia and China is it something else completely.

The Value of Money

How do we know what some unit of money is worth? Try not to think about your domestic currency. Since we use it so often every day, we tend to think of it with a set of assumptions and biases. Most Americans have little practical exposure to foreign exchange, and tend to think of themselves as living in a dollar-centric world.

Let's use the Chinese yuan. What is the yuan worth? What if I offered you a roll of yuan in exchange for a day's work? How would you know if it was a 'fair trade?"

Since there is no fixed standard for money in our world, you would most likely inquire in the markets what you could obtain for those yuan I offered to you in an accessible market.

But what sets the rate at which yuan are exchanged for a given product?

In a free market system, it is a very dynamic system of barter. When you offer something for money, I know how much of my source or store of wealth I must exchange for the yuan to provide for the product offered.

Money is just a placeholder. We hold it because we expect to be able to trade it for something else which we really desire. You don't eat or wear money; you exchange it for things which you wish to eat or wear.

If the value of money changes, the price of all the things to which you have been applying that label changes. This is why it is important to distinguish between price changes because of changes in demand, and changes because of money supply. They are different, and require very different responses.

Money supply

In a very real sense, there is a relationship between how many goods and services are available, and how much money exists.

Let's say we are in China. I give you 100 yuan. Tomorrow the Chinese government triples the amount of yuan in the economy by giving each of its citizens ten thousand yuan for essentially doing nothing, for not producing anything more or less.

Do you think the 100 yuan will be worth as much as they were the day before? No, obviously not.

In real economies these changes tend to happen with a time lag, or gradually, between the action and the reaction. This is necessary because people can only adjust their daily habits, their economic transactions, gradually. Otherwise it becomes too stressful, since our daily routines and decisions are based so heavily on habits and assumptions of value and consequences.

But in general, if the supply of money is increasing faster than real per capita GDP over a longer term average the money supply is inflating, that is, losing real purchasing power.

Seems simple? Well its a bit more complicated than that unfortunately since these things relate to free markets, and if there is any other thing you need to remember, we do not have free markets, only free to varying degrees.

The logical question at this point is to ask, "What is the money supply?" That is, what is money and what is not?

We dealt with this at some length, and suggest you look at this Money Supply: A Primer in order to gain more knowledge of what is money and money supply.

We would like to note here though, that there is a difference between money supply and credit, between real money and potential money.

If I have 100 Yuan in my pocket, there is a real difference between that money, and my ability to work at some job tomorrow and be paid 100 yuan, or have you repay 100 yuan to me which I gave to you yesterday, or my hopes that I can borrow 100 yuan from some third party.

If you do not understand this, you will not understand money. It is one of the great charades of our time that risk has been so badly distorted out of our calculations. We cannot help but think that some future generation will look at us as though we had all gone barking mad.

The subject becomes even more complicated these days because we are in what is called a fiat regime. Fiat means 'let it be done' as we will it, and we are if anything in a very relativistic age in which we think we can will just about anything.

The major nations of the world get together and attempt to manage the value of their currencies relative to one another, primarily through their finance ministries and central banks.

Countries will interfere in the markets, much more than they will admit, to attempt to maintain certain relationships among currencies of importance to them. Sometimes they are overt about it, as when nations 'peg' one currency to another, and at other times they are more subtle and merely influence other currencies through mass purchases of debt and other forms of persuasion and the molding of perception.

I hope this helps. I don't intend to answer loads of questions on this, particularly from those who immediately start inventing complex examples to try and disprove this. Most of the time the examples betray a bias that person has that defies patience and a stubborn belief that everything is relative. In the longer term it is most assuredly not.

Each will learn at their own pace what is real and what is not. But they will not be able to say that they have not been warned that sometimes appearance is different than reality.

Here are some examples of money supply growth in the US. If you read our Primer you will know that MZM is by far the most important now that M3 is no longer reliably available.

Is money supply growing faster than real per capita GDP? Yes, decidedly so. And unless this trend changes significantly we will face a whopping monetary inflation.

Here is a chart that shows the buying of US debt that other countries have been doing through the NY Fed Custodial Accounts for a variety of motivations. Without this absorption of US money supply the value of the dollar would be greatly diminished relative to several other currencies. This is probably not a sustainable relationship but it has had a good long run because it is supported by the US as the world's superpower.

Other countries are essentially exchanging their productivity, their per capita GDP, for our excess money supply. This is why a US monetary inflation has remained manageable. Other countries are providing an artificial Demand for US debt at non-market prices.

One of the great errors of our generation has been the gradual and erroneous mispricing of risk through a variety of bad assumptions and convenient fallacies. Without the appropriate allowance for risk, there is no ability to discover valid pricing and allocation of capital.

The consequences of this abuse of reason are going to be enormous.

I do not see this improving quickly because the manipulation of risk for the benefit of the few, and the transfer of that risk to the public and the rest of the world, has tremendous value to the powerful status quo.

But the day of reckoning and settlement of accounts is coming, and as it approaches it will accelerate and come with a vengeance. For after all,

"Life is a school of probability." Walter Bagehot

School is almost out.