What Henry Hazlitt Can Teach Us About Inflation in 2014 – James Grant – Mises Daily

Henry Hazlitt was an American journalist who lived through the Great Depression and went on to write about economic (and other) matters in  The American Mercury, The New York Times and Newsweek. The Henry Hazlitt Memorial Lecture is a lecture held annually at the Mises Institute. This year, the lecture was given by financial journalist Jim Grant.

Jim Grant wrote an article for the Mises Institute based on his lecture but including some things he did not mention. One of them was this definition of deflation:

“Deflation,” too, is a perennially misunderstood term. It is not — as one so often hears it defined — a simple decline in aggregate prices. Let’s try a mind experiment. Suppose you lived in a time of material and technological wonder: of digital technology that sets robots to work, makes universally accessible the canon of human knowledge and, to be sure, of human error and coordinates and arbitrages the world’s far-flung labor markets. As it costs less to make things, so it should cost less to buy them.

Would you call this happy state of affairs “deflation” — or might you call it “progress”? Most Americans seem to not to mind it, whatever the Federal Reserve chooses to call it. They spend half their weekends looking for it.

With this in mind, let’s hear from Hazlitt himself, master of economic clarity. Here he is in June 1946 — in the New York Times, no less — taking the government to task for its misplaced worry about a return to the 1930s.“A Washington correspondent of the Wall Street Journal reports that the government economic experts are now convinced the ‘deflation’ and not inflation will be the big problem six months to a year from now,” Hazlitt began. “Planners of federal financial policy make no secret of their belief that the danger of post-war inflation was passed in late spring, and that from now on the greater danger lies in too-rapid deflation. Such a belief on the part of the government planners in Washington would not be surprising, the whole economic philosophy they have adopted leads them to believe that ‘the real danger is deflation,’ whatever the evidence may be on the other side.”

In 1946, as now, the government held up the threat of deflation to justify a policy of ultra-low low interest rates and easy money. Now ladies, and gentlemen, I have devoted thirty-one years of my life to writing about interest rates, and I have to tell you that I can’t see them anymore. They’re tiny. And so they were in 1946. Then, as now, the Fed had been conscripted into the government’s financial service. Just as it does today, the central bank pushed money-market interest rates virtually to zero and longer-dated Treasury securities to less than 3 percent. Just as it does today, the Fed had its thumb on the scales of finance.

via What Henry Hazlitt Can Teach Us About Inflation in 2014 – James Grant – Mises Daily.


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