Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Media Deception About Inflation

About two years ago I veered from my focus on higher education into the subject of inflation. The reason is that, based on my recollection of the 1970s, when an inflation begins there is considerable media distortion about the reason. The cause of inflation is monetary. The reason for the media distortion is that inflation has two effects. One is to boost the stock market, the other is to boost consumer prices. The media has a vested interest in an increasing stock market, and so tends to lie about the reason. Inflation and the stock market are caused by monetary expansion.

Monetary expansion boosts the stock market for this reason. Interest is the price of money. The stock market computes future earnings with an implicit discount rate. By printing money, the Fed lowers the discount rate. Thus, when the Fed "reduces the interest rates" (prints money) it increases the stock market valuation.

Now, who benefits from the boost that monetary inflation gives to the stock market? The answer, of course, is corporate executives who hold stock options, Wall Street stock jobbers, asset holders in general, home owners and debtors. Who is harmed by inflation? People who work for a living, who are thrifty, who do not have debt and have to pay for necessities with the dollars that the Fed has devalued.

The largest debtors are big businesses. Media companies are corporate enterprises just like any other, and they hold debt. Therefore, their executives benefit from inflation. Therefore, there is considerable pressure on media outlets to lie about the reasons for inflation.

Not surprisingly, my concern about potential lying in the media have materialized recently in response to Congressional testimony by Michael Masters. First, on Fox Business News, there was a panel discussion that included much verbiage about how commodity speculators are causing inflation. Second, when I opened the New York Sun, Liz Peek's article "Time to Intervene in Commodities Markets" likewise omits the underlying monetary cause of price inflation. Price inflation is a monetary phenomenon, a fact that Fox as well as Peek omit. Instead, Peek, like Fox, attributes inflation to speculators. The media lying circus has begun.

Fox and the Sun are two of the few "Republican" sources, which is why I am loyal to them. It is a testimony to Wall Street's and corporate power that superstition is presented as news when the few "conservative" sources discuss inflation much like the New York Times.

As my good friend Howard S. Katz has put it, when reading about the economy, assume anything that the mass media says is the opposite of the truth. If the media says that high interest rates are hurting you, conclude that they are helping you. If the media says that there is a "sub-prime crisis", conclude that the bloated house prices that have been causing middle class bankruptcies for the past two decades are moderating. If the media says that inflation is caused by commodity speculation, assume that it is caused by monetary expansion. If the media says that a depression is near, assume that the stock market is about to go up.

Smart men have become rich in this way.

I have responded to Ms. Peek's and Fox's "news" pieces with the following letter:

>"Thanks for your article 'Time to Intervene in Commodities Markets'. I disagree with Mr. Masters's argument. Neither he nor anyone else is smart enough to know when to intervene in markets. The S&P 500 is up 1500% since January 1970. Is that a reason to cap stock prices? If not, then why is a 183% increase in commodity prices, 12.2% of the 38 year stock price increase, a reason to cap commodity prices? If pension funds wish to hold commodities as a hedge against inflation, should the federal government tell plan participants that they must suffer from inflation?

"Given that the global supply of dollars has increased by 8% a year for the past 2 1/2 decades and the Greenspan/Bernanke Fed have been on a money printing spree since 2000, why attribute rising commodity prices to speculation? Why not the money supply? Does Mr. Masters have a theory as to why printing money does not cause inflation? And is he a relative of Jimmy Carter?

"Perhaps a more useful story would be on the reason the M-3 monetary statistic is no longer published and what the growth in the quantity of M-3 has looked like since 1983. And might there be a connection between money supply and inflation? I mean, duh."

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