Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A couple of news snippets from America have thrown the markets into reverse. House sales slowed by 3.6% over the year to September, and a measure of consumer confidence has also slipped. This news closely follows other disappointing news about US retail sales - though the latter figures are distorted somewhat by the ending of the car scrappage scheme in September.

The news from across the pond serves as a warning that - while the worst of the recession may be over - the route back to sustained growth is likely to be long and difficult. We knew that already. A look at the long term trend suggests that the markets are not currently overvalued, and that the current blip should not represent the start of a more prolonged decline.

Monday, October 12, 2009

In a Guardian article over the weekend, David Blanchflower has argued that 'a few years of inflation, around 5% or so, would be a really good idea'. It is certainly the case that inflation could help reduce the national debt and so improve the public finances - simply because it would reduce the real value of that debt. That being the case, it is almost certainly part of the hidden agenda for all political parties as we run up to the next election.

However, inflation hits some people harder than others. In particular it hits those on fixed incomes (which are often low incomes) - people like pensioners. To advocate a deliberate stimulus of inflation will be regarded by many observers as bizzare, at least without introducing special protection for disadvantaged groups. This means indexation of pensions. How effective a policy of inflation would then be is uncertain. The long and short of it is that the current situation demands that people feel pain in the adjustment.

Prof Blanchflower has done us all a service in bringing what are surely hidden agendas out into the open. Whether he is right in judging inflation to be a 'really good idea' is moot. But it is certainly right that we should have the opportunity to discuss these things in the open.