Friday, June 8, 2012

Interest Rate Observer's James Grant Picks a Fight With the Financial Times' Izabella Kaminska

Nah, just funnin' ya.
Back in May The Economist's Buttonwood's Notebook had a post, "Jim Grant and the Gold Standard" that started:
EVEN if you don't agree with any of it, it is worth reading Jim Grant's entertaining speech to the New York Federal Reserve about the gold standard. Some people might feel he was rude to his hosts, but he might never get the chance to tell them his views again.
The point in Grant's speech that stuck in my mind was on deflation. Central banks were very concerned about deflation ten years ago, particularly as they had the Japanese example in front of them. But Grant argues that
What deflation is not is a drop in prices caused by a technology-enhanced decline in the costs of production. That's called progress. Between 1875 and 1896, according to Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz, the American price level subsided at the average rate of 1.7% a year. And why not? As technology was advancing, costs were tumbling.
Stephen King of HSBC has made this point before. Central banks essentially resisted what might have been a benign deflation in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and targeted 2% or so. In part, of course, this is because they were worried about the possibility of debt deflation, as defined in the 1930s by Irving Fisher....
Buttonwood however notes at the end of the piece:
* For what it's worth, I think that Mr Grant severely underestimates the problems that fixing the supply of money can cause. When a shock hits, everything else must adjust, notably wages and prices. As we can see in the euro zone at the moment, where they have fixed the exchange rate rather than the money supply, the process is completely wrenching....
I bring this up because Izabella is posting what is turning out to be a rather important piece of financial journalism, "Beyond Scarcity".  Here's today's installment:

[Beyond scarcity] The end of artificial scarcity
With so much doom and gloom about, we’d like to take you on a trip through the looking glass to a world where the future is bright, not bleak. Optimistic, not pessimistic. Hopeful, not dismal.

And we mean that in the context of today’s data. Not in some parallel-universe that doesn’t exist.
At FT Alphaville we’ve spent a fair bit of time discussing the problems posed by a “shortage of safe assets” in the system. How this shortage is leading to a scramble for safe stores of value alongside a recollateralisation of credit outstanding a la a giant game of musical chairs, all the while pushing yields into negative territory as people forsake capital (principal) for the opportunity to protect wealth.

We’ve also described how a very similar thing happened in the original Great Depression.

We’ve called the phenomenon “the time depreciation of money“. But one could also easily call it “money decay” or the end of the compound interest environment, in which capital is naturally presumed to appreciate.

It’s an environment that we have argued requires a new paradigm for the world. A transition towards a steady-state where money has no choice but to depreciate because its role as a store of value has been made redundant due to the general abundance of goods in society, brought about by technological innovation and efficiency. In a post-scarcity environment there is no need to delay or hurry purchases, or to even have a store of value. You use only what you need....MUCH MORE
See the superficial disagreement?
It's superficial because whether or not Grant calls it "progress" the effect is deflation.
Right now I'm going with Ms. Iz and hoping she fleshes out the piece, maybe touching on the role of storage/hoarding in commodity and other "monies" markets.

If not I'll have to go re-read MIT's Rudi Dornbusch:
Currency depreciation, hoarding, and relative prices 
or expose the results of a misspent youth (Kant-Hegel-Marx dialectics). Here's a quick overview:
On Marx, hoarding, and Specters of Marx
Update: A reader emails "Don't forget Costas Lapavitsas!"
On Marx's Analysis of Money Hoarding in the Turnover of Capital
How could I?