In Money We Trust? explains how, 2,500 years ago, the invention of money provided a shared measure of value that facilitated trade and cooperation between strangers. Sound, trustworthy money has throughout history fueled great human achievement—from the emergence of philosophy to the high-tech revolution. The program also explores the destructive consequences that ensue when inflation or other forms of instability cause money not to be trusted. In the most extreme instances, such as in Weimar Germany or present-day Venezuela, the economy—and social order—collapses.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Fed head “Yellen Defends Fed Rate-Rise Plan Despite ‘Mystery’ of Low Inflation.” For Yellen, it’s a “mystery” that the U.S. today enjoys, simultaneously, a low rate of inflation (1.9%) and unemployment (4.4%). It’s a fact, yet “theoretically” impossible, per Yellen, so she’ll keep raising the Fed’s policy interest rate, hoping to prevent further declines in the jobless rate. Get it?
Here’s why Yellen’s silly mystery is no mystery at all, at least to those who know something about the good and bad of economic theory and know some economic history too. For decades, Keynesian economists and their dominant textbooks have pushed the erroneous claim, to millions of students (including many now working at the Fed), that there’s an inevitable, unavoidable “trade-off” between a nation’s inflation rate and jobless rate. This bogus “cost-push” theory of inflation asserts that a low jobless rate somehow boosts labor’s “bargaining power” versus Scrooge-like employers, who eventually buckle under and concede to pay higher wage rates but, intent on preserving profit margins, also raise prices (thus inflation). The alleged tradeoff is captured by the so-called “Phillips Curve.” It’s in Yellen’s head.
In fact, inflation is a purely monetary phenomenon; technically, it’s a decline in the purchasing power of money caused by the interplay between the supply of and demand for money. Its effect is a general rise in prices. The main determiners of money supply are its monopoly issuers: today’s central banks (including the Fed). Contrary to what the Phillips Curve myth implies, inflation is not caused by real factors – i.e., by a greater proportion of folks working to produce things or by faster rates of growth in economic output. In fact, stability in the value (or purchasing power) of money, much like stability in the rule of law and policy, fosters better growth and employment. Such stability is also beneficial for profits and equities.
The Myth: An unregulated free market and unrestricted Wall Street greed caused the Great Depression and only the interventionist policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt got us out.
The Reality: The Great Depression was caused by government intervention, above all a financial system controlled by America’s central bank, the Federal Reserve — and the interventionist policies of Hoover and FDR only made things worse.