Inflating The Circulating Medium: Cause Or Effect?

Johnny Lee’s apt warning in his hit song “Lookin’ For Love In All The Wrong Places” suggests you cannot find what you seek unless you know what you are looking for and look in the right place. The same might be said about “inflation.” It turns out that too many people are looking for the wrong response to the relentless expansions of money and credit overseen by the Federal Reserve.

In the wake of the ongoing (never ending?) implementation of “unconventional” policies (e.g., ZIRP, NIRP, QE, LSAP, etc), most monetary aggregates have soared to previously unimaginable heights. In turn, those schooled in or influenced by Monetarism, especially if guided by the seminal works of Milton Friedman, are looking for “inflation” as measured as rising price levels as indicated by indices like the CPI or PCE.

It may be worthwhile to make a point concerning what is meant by “inflation.” Among Classical Economists, inflation was the act of creating excessive rates of growth of the circulating medium at the time. In practical terms, an inflated money supply leading to disequilibrium was depicted as a cause of economic instability.

However, the success of Monetarists during the second half of the 20th century, especially in explaining the “stagflation” during the 1970s, led its usage to describe an effect of monetary expansions. This is seen by examining the “equation of exchange” used to support the Modern Quantity Theory of Money.

While the equation of exchange appears in various forms, we will use the following:

MV = Py;

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M is money supply growth,

V is velocity of circulation (the inverse of the demand for cash balances),

P is the price level (e.g., CPI or PCE),

y is a measure of output (e.g., GDP)


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