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Inflation vs. Deflation: Endgame Approaches


Debate central to the US's economic future - indeed, to the world.

Of the myriad highbrow economic debates currently raging throughout the world of punditry, academia and government policy, few are as contentious as the one over the future of prices: Inflation vs. Deflation.

Indeed, the endgame for this issue is not insignificant, as many believe our economic future hinges on the Federal Reserve's ability to deftly engineer a return to steady, manageable inflation. To say the least, this is no easy task.

With the unemployment marching upwards, credit markets still largely frozen and global trade grinding to a halt, the American economy is in desperate need of a monetary jolt. The trouble for Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is that with interest rates already at zero, he's being forced to rely on so-called "quantitative easing" to pump money into our badly bruised financial system.

These efforts are being managed through the alphabet soup of new lending programs like TALF, TAF, CPFF and others.

Meanwhile, a glut of savings from the developing world coupled with reckless financial alchemy caused debt loads to skyrocket to unsustainable levels. The ongoing destruction of that debt, discussed often by Minyanville's Kevin Depew and Mr. Practical, is now raging at full speed, as assets of all types have come screaming back to earth.

Bloomberg highlights the debate by focusing on 2 highly regarded economists with divergent views on inflation and its causes.

John Maynard Keynes, a 20th century British economist gained notoriety for his thesis that inflation was controlled by supply-demand fundamentals within an economy. He advanced the view that well-directed government spending could help a country balance economic growth with a moderate, healthy rise in prices.

Western politicians jumped on the Keynesian bandwagon during much of the last century to support a vast expansion in government spending and intrusion into the private sector.

Opposing Keynes was Milton Friedman, who instead believed that "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon." Friedman's focus on monetary policy, that is, interest rates and controlling the flow of money through a country's economy, clashed with the Keynesian view that inflation could be controlled with fiscal measures and legislation.

Bernanke is doubling down on Keynes, evidenced by recent lending initiatives, bailouts of financial institutions like American International Group (AIG) and his support of President Barack Obama's massive fiscal spending program. The Fed's involvement in cleaning up the balance sheets of Citigroup (C) and Bank of America (BAC), along with efforts to jumpstart the mortgage market have also diminished its ability to remain apolitical and tend solely to the needs of the economy.
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