Friday, July 23, 2010

Inflation, Deflation, Double-Dip Recession...Ahhhhhhh

I scared myself.

Current media outlets are suffering a schizoid embulism when it comes to the economy. Half the commentators say we are in for massive inflation with all the government spending; the other half say we are in for crippling deflation, where prices decline for an extended period of time.

There is a call for a double-dip recession similar to 1980-82. Another group says we will have prolonged subpar growth with a few radicals calling for a rapidly overheating economy in the near future.

Everyone is wrong and I'll tell you why.

This is not 1980. In 1980 the economy suffered from high unemployment, high inflation, and not enough supply. President Reagan gave us "supply-side" economics. The term has been run through the mud over the decades, but Reagan was right. Lower taxes and less regulation were the exact ticket the economy needed to increase production, hire more labor, and reduce inflation. The problems of today are different.

Government spending does not cause inflation, the imbalance of supply and demand does. The opposite imbalance causes deflation.

Prices will remain stable with inflation starting a few years down the road. Not high inflation, some inflation. Demand is present, but fear is high. Banks are not lending to allow pent-up demand to push prices higher. At the same time, additional supply is waiting for work. Idle factories can fill demand when demand is able and willing to purchase. All these factors will keep prices bouncing around breakeven. There will be months of price declines followed by months of price increases. Mixed together, prices will go nowhere for the next several years.

Energy is the exception. If you review the oil bell curve you will notice a disturbing future event rapidly approaching: declining supply. I have no confidence in the American people to conserve oil until it really hurts; like 20% unemployment with $20 a gallon gas. When the world passes the United States as a low-cost, high efficiency producer, then Americans will get serious. That means Americans might as well get used to a declining paycheck and standard of living. And I'm an optimist. But there is hope.

Oil prices will rise as oil production begins to decline and then accelerates even lower. Oil prices will rise, but energy costs will not. At least not as much as oil, and eventually, energy costs will decline. Countries that cling to oil as an energy source will suffer the consequences.

China and Europe have decided on a different course. Wind and solar production  soar faster than demand, lowering their need for carbon based fuels. In less than 10 years, China wants 15% of all their energy needs filled by renewable production. Wind and solar will fill nearly all this need. To date, China is ahead of schedule.

The United States has chosen a carbon course. Policy in Washington is for energy independence from domestic natural gas and coal with a little help from solar and wind. China spends double what the U.S. does on renewable energy production each year. This is why in under five years the U.S. gave up its leadership possition in wind and solar to China, where over 50% of worldwide production now resides. Just think all those high paying jobs, and the U.S. exported them to China. Good move.

China understands that wind and solar have long-term benefits that pay back for extended periods of time. Solar panels and solar water heaters continue producing for decades at a very low cost once installed. China, and any nation that invests with the same wisdom, will enjoy an economic advantage that could last generations. China produces over 90% of worldwide production of evacuated tubes used in solar water heaters. Buy China or burn coal.

But all is not bad for the U.S. China will be the world leader and we can follow wherever they lead. China will want to cash in all those U.S. bonds they have been buying. As I write, China has nearly $1 trillion is U.S. Treasury securities. Just think of all the jobs Americans will have filling Chinese orders. We work, they consume, so we can pay our debts. All work and no play folks. American work ethic at its finest.

So you see, there will be no real deflation; there is too much money in the system ready to go to work propping up prices. Inflation has little chance because a large tract of North America will consume less than they produce for 30 years to pay for the sins of the father. No double-dip recession either. China stands ready to put us to work... at a lower pay rate.

China can even help us rewrite our Constitution. They can help us serve their values. Isn't that nice? And if we refuse, they dump $1 trillion of our debt on the market, pushing up our interest rates to 30%+ and we become a third-world nation.

Ahhhhhh. I'm scaring myself again.

I don't know about you, but I am hungry for Chinese. At least they want to speak English.

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