Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mythbusting - Economatrix Style

A couple of days ago, The Vulgar Curmudgeon posted a piece called "This is Why You Never Get Ahead".  It's a good economatrix summary, and although I know we've discussed lots of that here, it's good to see lots of good graphics.  Both Raconteur Report (a new link in my blog reading list) and Bayou Renaissance Man did summaries of it.

So why am I here?  It really comes down to one comment from someone who's just not awake to what's really going on; a comment at both Bayou RM and Vulgar Curmudgeon.  I don't want to pick on just this guy because other comments say basically the same thing.
Looking at that chart, we see that a new car doubled in price between 1990 and 2014. That's 24 years. Using the "rule of 72" that I learned in Econ 101, we can easily determine the average annual rate of inflation is 3%. This is also the official rate. I don't see the problem.
Instead of arguing over whether real inflation is his 3% or closer to 9% like Shadowstats calculates (using the methods from 1980 instead of today's methods), I have a different approach.  If you like the 1990 method better, Shadowstats provides that on the same link - using the 1990 method, inflation is closer to 5-1/2%, but again, even though either one of those numbers obliterates his argument, I don't want to go there.  Where I want to go with this is to step back and ask, why should there be inflation at all?  Why do we expect inflation?  The Fed targets 2% inflation, what's a reasonable amount? 

I maintain the ideal value for inflation is 0%.

Since we started out talking about car prices, why should a car get more expensive at any fixed rate?  I can see cars getting more expensive as car makers add mandated features and other costs, but an iron law of manufacturing is that the more experienced you are at making something, the cheaper it gets.  Why aren't cars getting cheaper over the years instead of more expensive?  Are they paying more for materials? Probably, but again, why?  Why should the prices of aluminum, plastic, or iron have anything to do with the nominal inflation rate?   I can see there might be real supply/demand unbalances that make some materials more expensive, but why would supply/demand unbalances produce a curve that looks like "...the average annual rate of inflation?"

Let's not talk about cars.  It's really easier to see with a house.  Have you ever asked why should your house get more valuable with time?  If you're not continually improving it by upgrading things that you'll sell with it, your house should be worth less as it ages, not more.  It's getting older; it's deteriorating.  If the area where you live becomes more desirable, the price would go up, and if your neighborhood has become less desirable, the price would go down. Yet everyone expects to sell their house for more than they paid.  Why should that be?  

Notice the "50 Year Trend Line" of housing prices going up?  Notice that the continuous rise of that line starts around 1971 when Nixon got us off the gold standard? 

Has it occurred to you that our system might be based on a continually devaluing currency?  That's exactly what's going on.  The currency gets worth less and less every year, due to Federal Reserve manipulations.  It's what they're trying to do.  In 1970, gold was $35/ounce while today it's hovering near $1300/oz.  If gold is your measuring stick, today's dollar buys $35/$1300 of what it did then, just under 2.7%.   

There's a difference between inflation and actual economic growth.  Economic growth comes from creating new wealth; either producing things others value out of raw materials, growing crops or mining new things out of the ground: whether minerals like diamonds or metals like iron.  I like to think of this from the viewpoint of the Information Theory of Money: wealth is created by adding information.  A car is good example here.  Creating the car creates wealth for the people who design and make the car.  Now smash that car into a wall at a high rate of speed.  Every single molecule that was present before the crash is present after the crash; what's missing is the ordered information that arranged those molecules into the car.  The pile of parts is worth much less than the shiny new car because the information is now gone.  That's saying that the real wealth; the real worth of the car is the information.  Creating the car consisted of imposing new information on raw materials.  That was the creation of wealth.  Creating currency by manipulating digits in a computer is not creating wealth at all.  What it's doing is diluting all the other currency that already exists, making each unit worth less.  That's inflation. 

The monetarists at the Federal Reserve define GDP growth as economic activity, deliberately conflating inflation with actual economic growth. 

Wages have been in stagnation since the mid 1960s.
On average, workers born in 1942 earned as much or more over their careers as workers born in any year since, according to this research — and workers on the job today shouldn’t expect to catch up with their predecessors in their remaining years of employment.
Workers born in 1942 were probably working for a living by 1960 to 1962, perhaps 1964.  From the group of men that entered the labor market in 1967 to the group that entered in 1983, median lifetime income of men declined by 10%–19%. This problem has been going on for more than the 50 years back to 1967.   Most people will say it's because of off-shoring or outsourcing jobs or blame it on the Evil Rich People.  Bill Bonner had a good summary in a piece I quoted more than a year ago
Most economists (and politicians) have blamed world trade for stagnant U.S. wages. The median wage in China is only $8 a day. No wonder U.S. factory hands can’t catch a break; who can compete with that? 

But Germans compete with the Chinese, too. And their wages have gone up! In real terms, after adjusting for inflation, wages in France and Germany have been going up at a 0.7% rate for the past 15-20 years.
While the Germans and the French have a central bank, they're not working under the US Federal Reserve.  Not having the so-called "Reserve Currency", perhaps their banks are required to be not quite as manipulative as ours, allowing some sanity.  

Well, I often say the only privilege that comes with running a blog is getting to respond with a wall of text to a comment.  Today, I respond with a wall of text to a comment that wasn't even to my blog.  It just seem to me that not enough people ever ask why there should be a constant increase in the prices of everything.
Cars with most of their information mostly removed, rendering them worth far less than when their information is intact. .


  1. 1) thanks for the link-love.
    2) As I noted, the price of gold before FDR took us off the gold standard was, for the fifty consecutive years prior to that point, $20.67/oz.
    3) By 1971, when Nixon decoupled the dollar from the price of gold, inflation had turned $20.67 into $44.60 (IOW, the US Treasury was over-valuing the dollar with that +/- $35/oz rate), and that means the value of the dollar from 1932 was then only 46 cents.
    With gold now going for $1300, that $1 from 1932 is now worth 1.6 cents, which is what it costs to print one.
    They are, in short, finely engraved toilet paper.

    The fiat currencies of the world are the emperor in a certain tale from Hans Christian Andersen, all earnestly hoping the boulevards of the world are lacking in perspicacious and precocious little boys.

    The correct rate of inflation should, indeed, be pegged at 0.0%, and would be, if currency were actually money. Like it was from 1879-1933.

    Inflation, by the government printing greenbacks three shifts a day forever, or simply waving a digital wand and creating them ex nihilo, are government's silent tax on any of them you own or deposit, and a disincentive to ever save anything in dollars, because time turns those dollars into dust.
    $1,000,000 right now gets you what $15,900 would have bought you in 1932.
    A million in gold in 1932 would be worth $62.9 million right now.
    But a million in US dollars then would only buy now that same $15,900 in goods and services today.

    Finding a vault of Al Capone's gold today would be a windfall.
    Finding a vault of US dollars from him would be a cruel joke, roughly akin to a relative bequeathing you a satchel of Weimar reichsmarks, Confederate money, or Zimbabwean trillion dollar notes.

    3) the car prices are an outlier, because those are un-adjusted dollars, but as noted, no one now likely makes twice what their parents did in the 1990s, or 6X what their grandparents made in the 1970s.
    But a mint-condition vintage sedan from then will fetch just about (or more) what a new sedan now costs.
    Proof that it isn't so much that car prices have risen, as that dollars are worth crapola. And automobiles, being the one thing on those graphs not subsidized by government loan programs, are the least price-inflated item. Houses, college, and medical care (all lovingly ruined by government-backed loan programs, have de-coupled even from the exorbitant base inflationary rate, and now run many multiples of it, on a trajectory towards the sun.

    So at both ends, the problem is the government: debasing the currency at the speed of printing presses, and pumping that fiat ersatz capital into successive tulipomanias: tech and banking stocks in 1999 (and all stocks again now), houses in 2008, and college tuition, due to explode any second.

    And when the government debt explodes, the EBT/welfare protection money paid to the Free Sh*t Army since the Great Society screeches to a halt, the cities all become South Central Los Angeles at the intersection of Florence and Normandie.

    And no one you know has enough ammunition put by to deal with what happens next, come that day.

    All of which happens in moments once government borrowing is confronted by positive interest rates, because the interest on the debt eats up the entire tax revenue in about a month at that point, and the whole house of cards collapses.

    1929 will appear to be a church picnic by comparison.

  2. What would be the price difference between old and new cars, if that difference hadn't been reduced by 24 years of technological growth in robotic factory production? That's what the commenter should calculate currency inflation from.

    The average government school graduate expects inflation because government employees told them in high school that if the purchasing power of their parents' retirement savings aren't stripped by compounded currency inflation then the sky will fall. "The sky will fall" is a monkey dominance challenge. The government dares you not to ask for a concrete description of the bad consequences of an increase in purchasing power of a hard currency produced by technological growth. How dare you question the great wizard of oz (flame, flame). Government tries to distract you from asking this question with envy, saying the middle class will receive the purchasing power of the rich's saved currency when it is redistributed to the middle class by currency inflation. Which is false. The rich hold the bulk of their wealth in stocks, which aren't watered down by currency inflation.

    Social Security and Medicare recipients are the real Free Sh*t Army, lazy urbanites are a drop in the bucket. When the enforcers stop getting their salaries paid, all the enforcement at every level will collapse like dominoes. Then you will be able to get a hurricane and wildfire-proof concrete house delivered by a truck in a week for a few ounces of gold.

  3. Allow me to thank you BOTH for the link love!

    I agree with Aesop's predictions above.
    There is an economic meltdown of biblical proportions coming and more than likely some good old fashioned genocide soon to follow.
    It makes me think that maybe that damn Kunstler guy might actually be on
    to something.

    1. None of us are smarter than all of us.
      And those graphs were truly the pictures worth a thousand words.
      Peter over at Bayou Renaissance Man noticed them on your site as well.

      We're all living in interesting times, in exactly that Chinese curse sort of way.

  4. Nixon was blamed for closing the gold window but for all practical purposes gold use by the general public was made illegal by FDR. The use of silver coinage ended in 1964. The best way to tell how well you are doing is to price everything in pre 64 silver dimes. They were worth 10 cents in the 64 check that dime value and price the same item today. We're doing pretty well on the price of gas...where we have lost is the valuation of our labor. Importing cheap labor with the use of vistas and exporting our jobs with crappy trade agreements is becoming very damaging. That's part of the reason that TRUMP exists...and the globalists fear his popularity. In 1966 I had a part time job at night while in college that paid about 3.70 an hour with an Armour hog slaughter plant filling in for sick and vacationing full timers. Price that in silver dimes and then check the wages paid today...not even close for that blue collar work and now it is filled with Hispanics and even muslims. Guess how many of them are illegals. The illegals have to go and the visas have to stop and we need fair trade. I am retired but this is destroying the middle class along with the planned Fed inflation rate that only makes it easier for them to run trillion dollar debts. indyjonesouthere

    1. Darwin says there is no successful way to hide from competing with the rest of the world. Not on labor, finished goods, or anything else. Put up an iron curtain to blockade trade in labor and you become the Soviet Union or North Korea. If the communism doesn't collapse from starvation it will be conquered in a war. There is no middle ground where some amount of iron curtain is net advantageous for the middle class. What really happens is the middle class trade unions extract an advantage from the middle class purchasers. The minimum wage was designed to ban price competition with union labor. Don't take the blue collar salaries in 1950 as any kind of standard. They were temporarily high because the USA had bombed all the factories in Europe. Today, the illegal Hispanics and Muslims have a work ethic that Americans don't.

    2. FDR couldn't ban gold from the rest of the world, but Nixon could, and did, decouple the US dollar from gold.

      That's when the US inflation rocket achieved Saturn V rocket trajectory.

      As Casey Stengel used to tell people, "You could look it up."

    3. Actually inflation reared it's head after the French started turning in the silver certificates for actual silver. No more silver certificates of coinage after the mid 60's. It is likely that LBJ's guns and butter programs drove inflation all the way to the end of Carters term.

    4. The anonymous above is me. indyjonesouthere

    5. Let me just point out two paragraphs from the article.

      Most economists (and politicians) have blamed world trade for stagnant U.S. wages. The median wage in China is only $8 a day. No wonder U.S. factory hands can’t catch a break; who can compete with that?

      But Germans compete with the Chinese, too. And their wages have gone up! In real terms, after adjusting for inflation, wages in France and Germany have been going up at a 0.7% rate for the past 15-20 years.

      Where it says ... have blamed world trade for stagnant U.S. wages. you can say Unions, minimum wage laws, Muslim immigrants, lazy American workers and so on. Yet wages in Germany have gone up.

      It's more complex than that.

  5. Yup , I've been preaching for years now. That it all falls back to Nixon.
    Sucks to be unable to work , after that beotch run over me awhile back...
    Yet then too, good thing I turned 62 that same year eh !

  6. Your comment about information and wealth is spot on. Another word you might use is anentropy (did I just coin that?) -- wealth fights disorder. The only thing intelligent man adds to the world is information. We reinterpret that in concrete terms by using wealth as a proxy measure.

    1. Another way of saying that is that we have exactly the same physical world; exactly the same atoms - iron, aluminum, whatever - that were around during the Roman empire. What we have that they didn't have is the results of billions upon billions of experiments that gives us information on how to use those things.

  7. "The pile of parts is worth much less than the shiny new car because the information is now gone. "
    A significant portion of the information is randomized. What is missing is the structure of the information. OK, structure is information too.
    Earlier in my youth, I would buy a carefully selected paperback for 35C, generally with a silver quarter and a silver dime. Calculate the present price and compare. A loaf of bread can still be had for a dime, if its a silver dime equivalent.

    1. Pretty sure I remember buying my first paperbacks for 35C, too. Today, a silver dime is worth $1.25, so that paperback is 4.38. Amazon tells me the Monster Hunter paperbacks are around $5.

      Electronics bucks the trend. A high end ham radio transceiver is around $3000. That corresponds to $250 in pre-1964 dimes, but the high end radios of that day were around $1500 and still don't do anywhere near what our modern radios do.

      Electronics has come down in price even with respect to a gold (or silver) standard. That's a combination of Moore's Law and the increasing performance of modern semiconductors along with the improvements in manufacturing.

  8. I always get a good belly laugh whenever I hear our president accuse the Chinese of manipulating their currency...

  9. The French talk wistfully of the "trent glorieuses", the 30 years of incredible economic growth from 1955 to 1985 or so. By 1995 everyone knew it was over, and the French were envious of their English counterparts across the Channel doing better every year.

    I think this maps well to the workers born in 1942, but suggests something global in the western economies. I think it's the rigidification of the economies - more regulations issued by increasingly clueless bureaucrats. A regulator in 1960 was likely to be much less grandiose in his goals and also more competent in his past work history that recently. No wonder things don't work.