Tuesday 12 October 2021

Why Inflation will not be Temporary


The current conventional wisdom is that inflation in Ireland will only be temporary as the economy recovers from the covid lockdowns. But this can only be the case if there was deflation during the lockdowns which the re-opening induced inflation would now be negating. The only deflation that occurred during the lockdowns that I can remember was petrol prices. Core consumer items such as food, electricity bills and rent did not fall or at least not in any noticeable way. A period of deflation is not equivalent with an economy being closed down. A rental freeze is not deflation. This is the mistake the economic experts are making. They also have not taken into account the effects of the large government spending. 

When a hotel or other business is shutdown, its prices do not reduce, the service simply ceases to exist. In fact, inflation will likely occur. Say two hotels close down in a region leaving only one hotel open. This will lead to a period of inflation as the remaining hotel raises its prices to take advantage of the increased demand and reduced supply. The difference between this scenario and the lockdown was that  during the lockdown all three hotels were shutdown meaning there was no deflationary pressure. Then when the hotels opened, they could charge high prices because people had a lot of savings. This was an unintended consequence of the high level of unemployment support.  And the same happened with rent, an opportunity was missed during lockdown to bring about rental deflation through a smaller Pandemic Unemployment Benefit. Instead, the government went along with the calls from the most populist spending cheer-leaders.  

Another point that is missed is that many businesses may never re-open again. This will bring further inflationary pressure as supply reduces. 

As you can see from the graph above, the sharpest fall in prices was in November 2020 when year on year deflation reached -1.5%. This was the sharpest fall in a decade. In less than 12 months however , the inflation has skyrocketed to +3.7%.

While there are other factors impacting inflation right now, such as our high dependence on global supply chains, the high levels of pandemic payments paid out last year are part of the reason why Ireland has inflation above the EU average and even above UK's inflation rate of 3.2%. People saved up, then spent most of it in-between the lockdowns leaving little pressure on businesses to drop their prices. Little haggling took place with landlords who should have been under severe pressure to drop their rents during a period of very little house moving by job hunters both within Ireland and those coming from abroad. 

But as every economist should know but seems to have forgotten, all this money had to be printed, which was happening at a high rate prior to the pandemic anyway. Too much money printing or quantitative easing (or whatever you want to call it) , and the inflation snail eventually catches up with you. Too much money ends up chasing too few goods.  And then the snail begins to look like a rabbit. 

1 comment:

  1. Dancing to the end of time,
    around the magic money tree!