Pages

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Price stability is not what it seems to be

When we discuss, write about, talk about or analyze the term money, we use the term money with the implicit assumption that this money we are dealing with is stable - as in fixed - in real economic value in our low inflationary economies. We thus assume at the same time that prices are more or less stable in low inflationary economies.

The term stable is normally accepted by the public at large to indicate a permanently fixed situation or position or state or price or value. A stable – as in fixed – price over time would be drawn as a horizontal line on a chart. A slowly increasing price over time would be drawn as a slightly rising line on a chart. A slowly decreasing value over time would be drawn as a slightly declining line on a chart. When we say production of a commodity is stable we accept that the absolute number of items being produced is not fluctuating but is at the same level all the time.
The term stable as used by economists, however, does not mean a fixed price or level, even though that is what the public in general thinks it means. The term stable in economics today means slowly increasing or slowly decreasing – depending on what it is being applied to. The term price stability as used by economists today does not mean that prices in general stay the same, but that prices in general are rising slowly – which is, as we are all taught, the popular definition of inflation.

The term stable money as used by economists equally does not mean that the real value of national monetary units they are talking about stays the same in the economy – even though that is what the public in general thinks it means. What they mean with stable money is that the real value of a national monetary unit is slowly being destroyed by inflation over time.

When a central bank governor says that the central bank’s primary task or objective is price stability what she or he means is that the central bank would be fulfilling its primary task, in an economy with low levels of inflation, when prices in general are slowly rising over time (that well known definition of inflation again). The flip side of that statement is that the real value of national monetary units is slowly being destroyed by inflation over time.

A central bank’s primary task being price stability is the same as saying a central bank’s main responsibility is ensuring that inflation is maintained at a very low level. This low level was generally accepted in first world economies to be 2 percent per annum. The latest sub-prime crisis raised doubts about the 2% level being sufficient in the event of large shocks to the economy.
“In a world of small shocks, 2 percent inflation seemed to provide a sufficient cushion to make the zero lower bound unimportant.”

“Should policymakers therefore aim for a higher target inflation rate in normal times, in order to increase the room for monetary policy to react to such shocks? To be concrete, are the net costs of inflation much higher at, say, 4 percent than at 2 percent, the current target range?”

Rethinking Monetary Policy, IMF Staff Position Note, Olivier Blanchard, Giovanni Dell´Ariccia and Paulo Mauro, p 4 and 11, Feb 2010.

Kindest regards
Nicolaas Smith
realvalueaccounting@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2010 Nicolaas J Smith