Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stagflation. It’s Back.

Stagflation officially returned today with a nasty GDP report that showed only 1.8 percent real growth, but 3.8 percent for the consumer spending deflator. It’s a mini version of the 1970s: low growth, higher inflation.

Looked at another way, rising inflation is coexisting with high, near-9 percent unemployment. Keynesians argue this can’t happen. They believe strong growth and too many people working leads to high inflation. But they were blown out of the water way back in the ’70s. And their view is hitting another pothole right now.

Supply-siders know that inflation is a monetary problem. Growth is caused by low tax-rate incentives. And the combination of flat tax rates and sound money could produce strong growth with no inflation. Think 1980s and 1990s.

But that’s not what we have now.

The dollar is falling relentlessly and gold is soaring. These market indicators are correctly predicting higher inflation as the Fed creates more excess money than anybody knows what to do with.

Fed head Ben Bernanke yesterday told us that low Q1 growth and high inflation will be “transitory.” How does he know this? Gold has gone up $40 since he started talking at his Wednesday press conference. It’s now at $1,536 an ounce. And the greenback keeps falling. Transitory? Actually, it looks like the whole QE2 pump-priming hasn’t stimulated economic growth, but has stimulated inflation.

And while the Bush tax cuts were extended last December, the sharp dollar decline and the resulting inflation have neutralized the positive effects of continued lower tax rates.

Once again I note the supply-side model is low tax rates and a stable dollar (backed by gold). But low tax rates and collapsing dollar is no good. Neither is overspending and over-borrowing. Nor is the new round of Obama-based tax-hike threats.

And the Treasury Department hasn’t lifted a finger to support the dollar. So the Bernanke Buck keeps tumbling. The White House won’t come to the table for a budget deal. And the economy is showing signs of stagflation.

Thank heavens for profits. Business productivity and profits in the private sector are the saving grace of this whole story. And let me dream that government will just leave businesses alone, and let them continue to support the economy and the stock market.

Because if stagflation is not transitory, businesses may have to tighten their belts once again.