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Why We're Facing Deflation

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How velocity, money supply, and currency-printing affect the economic environment.

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The Velocity Factor

When most of us think of the velocity of money, we think of how fast it goes through our hands. I know at the Mauldin household, with seven kids, it seems like something is always coming up. And what about my business? Travel costs are way, way up. And as aggressive as we are on the budget, expenses always seem to rise. Compliance, legal, and accounting costs are through the roof. I wonder how those costs are accounted for in the Consumer Price Index? About the only way to deal with it, as my old partner from the 1970s Don Moore used to say, is to make up the rise in costs with "excess profits," whatever those are.

Is the Money Supply Growing or Not?

But we're not talking about our personal budgetary woes. Today we tackle an economic concept called the velocity of money, and how it affects the growth of the economy. Let's start with a few charts showing the recent high growth in the money supply that many are alarmed about. The money supply is growing very slowly, alarmingly fast, or just about right, depending upon which monetary measure you use.

First, let's look at the adjusted monetary base, or plain old cash plus bank reserves (remember that fact) held at the Federal Reserve. That's the only part of the money supply the Fed has any real direct control of. Until very recently, there was very little year-over-year growth. The monetary base grew along a rather predictable long-term trend line, with some variance from time to time, but always coming back to the mean.

But in the last few months, the monetary base has grown by a staggering amount. And when you see the "J-curve" in the monetary base (which is likely to rise even more!) it does demand an explanation. There are those who suggest this is an indication of a Federal Reserve gone wild and that 2,000-dollar gold and a plummeting dollar are just around the corner. They're looking at that graph and leaping to conclusions. But it's what you don't see that's important.



Now, let's introduce the concept of the velocity of money. Basically, this is the average frequency with which a unit of money is spent. Let's assume a very small economy of just you and me, which has a money supply of $100. I have the $100 and spend it to buy $100 worth of flowers from you. You in turn spend the $100 to buy books from me. We have created $200 of our "gross domestic product" from a money supply of just $100. If we do that transaction every month, in a year we'd have $2,400 of "GDP" from our $100 monetary base.

So, what that means is that gross domestic product is a function not just of the money supply, but how fast the money supply moves through the economy. Stated as an equation, it's Y=MV, where Y is the nominal gross domestic product (not inflation-adjusted here), M is the money supply, and V is the velocity of money. You can solve for V by dividing Y by M.
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