One of the ostensible reasons why the Federal Reserve has been pumping money into the economy through its quantitative easing program has been to ward off the possibility of deflation, which, according to most economists and policy-makers, would be far worse for most people than the current on-going recession – and no matter what any economist says, for most people, the economy is still in a recession.
In deflation, the value of all non-monetary assets drop. Effectively, that means the value of your house drops, but not the money owed on your mortgage. The worth, and thus the price, of goods drops, and that means that the people who produce and sell those goods make less… and so it goes.
The problem with the Great Recession has been that it combined some aspects of deflation with some aspects of inflation. In almost all of the country, housing values went down, but mortgage payments didn’t, while family earnings stagnated for those fortunate enough to keep a job, and for those who lost jobs, many of them lost everything. In addition, with the amount of money the Fed pumped into the economy, interest rates on money invested in savings accounts, CDs, bonds, and money market mutual funds dropped through the floor, effectively reducing earnings of anyone invested in those areas, the vast majority of whom were people on limited and fixed incomes. The reaction of many – those who could afford to — was to invest in the stock market, which is more risky. In turn, this pushed the rate of return on dividend-bearing stocks down, again reducing earnings while propelling the stock market indices to record highs… which, at least initially, meant significant gains for those with the funds who were already invested in stocks, or who invested shortly after the Wall Street crash, and far less in gains, if any, for those who delayed.
Supposedly, now that unemployment percentages have dropped, the Federal Reserve is planning to reduce the amount of money it’s pumping into the economy, which should mean that interest rates ought to increase very slightly. Personally, I have some doubts about that. I suspect that very little will change soon. Wages and salaries aren’t increasing for most people, and that means no significant increase in overall demand.
Effectively, a goodly portion of Americans are still trapped in their own personal version of deflation, with mortgages greater than the value of their homes, many with significant student debt, and with marginal, if any real increases in earnings.
From a politician’s or policy-maker’s view, the last thing the United States needs is deflation, but at present, because of the labor situation, any significant amount of inflation will paradoxically have deflationary impacts on a considerable number of Americans. And given that government isn’t the best at managing the economy, and the banking and finance sectors haven’t shown much concern or interest in the welfare of the majority of Americans, the next year or so could be very interesting… and that reminds me that the exhortation, “May you live in interesting times,” is a curse, not a blessing.