As the global economy emerges from the pandemic’s 15-month slumber, Deutsche Bank has launched a series of research articles to spark debate and discussion about pressing post-pandemic economic issues.
The first report in the new series, titled “Inflation: The defining macro story of this decade,” was released by Deutsche Bank on June 7.
The report claims that “The direction of US macroeconomic policy, and indeed the role of government in the economy, is changing for the first time in 40 years. As a result, we are concerned that it will result in uncomfortably high levels of inflation.” Given that the US economy is already experiencing “uncomfortable” inflation, this could be considered an understatement.
Consider the following: According to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation report, “in April, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers rose 0.8 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis; rising 4.2 percent over the previous 12 months.”
A 4.2 percent annual inflation rate is more than “uncomfortable.” However, the looming threat of inflation appears to have gone unnoticed in Washington, D.C., over the last year, as Congress has increased spending to levels not seen since World War II. According to Deutsche Bank, “The current fiscal stimulus is more akin to what was seen around WWII. Then, for four years, the US deficit remained between 15 and 30 percent of GDP. While there are many significant differences between the pandemic and WWII, annual inflation was 8.4 percent, 14.6 percent, and 7.7 percent in 1946, 1947, and 1948, respectively, after the economy normalized and pent-up demand was released “”There was an increase in demand.”
If the United States’ economy enters an inflationary spiral similar to that seen after World War II, we could be on the verge of excruciating economic pain.
However, Congress’s wasteful spending is only part of the problem.
Deutsche Bank claims that “Monetary stimulus has been equally impressive. During the pandemic, the Fed’s balance sheet nearly doubled to nearly $8 trillion. This compares to the 2008 financial crisis, when it increased by slightly more than $1 trillion and then increased by another $2 trillion over the next six years.”
Any economist will tell you that printing large amounts of money in a short period of time (as the Federal Reserve has done during the pandemic) is a key component of inflation.
This has happened numerous times over the last century. Massive money printing, from Weimar Germany to present-day Venezuela, has never worked and has always resulted in out-of-control inflation.
“We are concerned that inflation will make a comeback,” concludes the Deutsche Bank report. Few people remember how high inflation threatened our societies and economies 50 years ago. The most fundamental economic laws, those that have stood the test of time over millennia, have not been suspended. An explosive increase in debt, largely financed by central banks, is likely to lead to higher inflation. Price increases will affect everyone. The consequences could be devastating, especially for society’s most vulnerable members. Sadly, when central banks do act at this stage, they will be forced into abrupt policy change which will only make it harder for policymakers to achieve the social goals that our societies need.”
As previously stated, the German people are well aware that rising inflation can cause more than just economic upheaval. Hyperinflation, such as that seen in post-World War I Germany, can also cause social unrest and political upheaval.
In fact, one of the reasons Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in Weimar Germany was the public’s resentment of the hyperinflation caused by Germany’s central bank’s endless money printing in the 1920s to pay off World War I reparations.
Of course, Hitler’s rise was not solely due to Weimar Germany’s hyperinflation. However, when uncontrollable inflation takes hold, people (reasonably) panic.
Inflation-induced panic has manifested itself in social, political, and economic turmoil throughout history. The looming question is how Americans will deal with the very real possibility of a post-pandemic inflation environment unprecedented in our country’s history.