Welcome to Passive Realestate Investing. I’m your host Marco Santarelli, really special episode today. I have a great guest today that I’ve been wanting to get on the show for a while. His name is Richard Duncan. I will, uh, read his little bio here shortly, but I just want you to know that this episode is going to be very interesting. We’re going to talk about things as it relates to our economy and inflation, where we’re heading. Are we heading towards massive inflation or there’s so much information and misinformation about there as to whether we’re going to see inflation hyperinflation, are we going to be in a very low inflationary environment and how this impacts you? And it does impact you because inflation changes the prices of the goods that you buy from food to your insurance, to your car, to your education, and everything else. So inflation is a factor in your life all the time.
Some people refer to it as this invisible tax, this stealth tax into a large degree. It is because it’s eating away at the purchasing power of your dollar, but at the same time, it is good in other ways. And you’re going to find today’s episode this interview very enlightening because we don’t think about inflation in other ways that it helps us. And when you broaden your view of the scope of how you look at this from not just a local perspective or even a national perspective, but an international perspective, meaning from a global economy, you start to realize that this whole subject of inflation is much bigger and broader in terms of how it affects you and your local economy and the national economy and the world economy as a whole. It’s just a fascinating subject. Our interview today went a little long. You could listen to this, you know, across two different sessions, whether you’re driving or, you know, cutting the grass, whatever you may be doing.
So if it’s a little bit long, I think we went 50 minutes. You’ll understand, and you can just pause it and come back to it. And by the way, everything we’ve talked about in this interview, we literally could have talked about this for hours and hours. And so when you start to look at Richard’s stuff, his blog posts and his videos, and all that kind of stuff, you’ll start to understand why this is such an interesting and broad topic.
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- Are We Heading Towards Massive Inflation? With Richard Duncan | PREI 334
So with that, and in no further ado, I’m going to get right into that interview. So here we go.
It’s my pleasure to welcome Richard Duncan to the show. Richard is the author of three books on the global economic crisis, including the international bestseller, The Dollar Crisis, which by the way, I bought that book many, many years ago, it was one of my favorite books. I still have it to this day on my bookshelf, but The Dollar Crisis is a book that forecast the global economic crisis in 2008 with extraordinary accuracy. And since Richard began his career as an equities analyst in Hong Kong in 1986, he has served as global head of investment strategy at ABN AMRO, asset management in London. I hope I actually got the name of that company, correct. He worked as a financial sector specialist for the world bank in Washington, DC. He headed up the equity research department for Solomon Brothers in Bangkok, and he has also worked as a consultant for the IMF in Thailand during the Asia crisis. He is now the publisher of the video newsletter Macro Watch, which I am a subscriber too. And it, that can be found at richardduncaneconomics.com
Richard, welcome to the show.
Marco, thank you for having me on.
Hey, it’s great to have you on it’s. This is long overdue. I’ve been following your work on and off for many, many years. I love your depth of analysis in the study, the data that you have and how you explain things in a very clear, concise manner. So I’ve certainly gotten an education from you. So I appreciate all that.
Well, thanks. I’m looking forward to our conversation.
Yeah, definitely. So we’re not going to go too deep into the weeds here today. Only because I think some of this stuff causes people’s eyes to glaze over, but at the same time, I know the importance of it. And I want people to hear what you have to say and understand it, even if it’s only at a 30,000 foot level, because it impacts them. And when we talk about inflation and the impact that it has on people, especially as investors, whether it be real estate or the stock market or otherwise, you know, this obviously affects you, it affects your returns and your financial future. So I think this is what we’re going to talk about today, but before we go there, why don’t you take a minute and tell us a little bit more about yourself, because this is the first time you’re on the show and my listeners are maybe not too familiar with who you are.
Okay. We’ll try to keep this brief. I grew up in Kentucky, went to Vanderbilt. Fortunately had the opportunity to backpack around the world for a year after that. And I saw Asia in early 1984 and it was booming economically. So I realized there were tremendous opportunities in Asia. So I went back to business school at Babson college, outside Boston for a couple of years. And then when I finished that in 1986, I moved to Hong Kong and found a job as a equities analyst in Hong Kong, Chinese stockbroking company. And I’ve spent most of my career in Asia since then. And of course, Asia had some extraordinary growth, especially in the late eighties and early 1990s. It also had some fantastic economic crashes. And so I always say that I had my education in bubblenomics, trying to six years. I lived in Thailand from 1990, until 1996, extraordinary boom turned into an extraordinary bubble. And then the whole thing blew up in 1997. And the Thai stock market fell 95% in dollar terms and the GDP contracted by 10. So I’ve seen a lot of very big boom and bust cycles in Asia, and that’s been extraordinarily helpful to me and the way I analyze and understand, uh, macro economic forces and cycles.
Amazing. So you’ve seen obviously many economic cycles you’ve lived through them. You’ve experienced them, you’ve analyzed them. So that gives you a great perspective.
That’s really what led me to write The Dollar Crisis, which was written in 2002 dated in 2004. The theme of that book was that the very large trade imbalances in the world were de-stabilizing the global economy and causing the countries with very large trade surpluses, like Japan, for instance, to blow into economic bubbles, and then ultimately pop, but also de-stabilizing the United States. And in other ways.
So I think any subscriber to your video newsletter Macro Watch will understand that trade deficits don’t apply or aren’t as impactful today as they once were.
Well. So I think we will talk a lot about trade deficits over the next 30 minutes or so, because they will have a very big impact on whether or not there’s inflation in the United States.
Yeah. Inflation is one thing I really want to make the core focus of this conversation because the people listening to this episode, this podcast are investors, investors of all kinds, predominantly real estate, and inflation has a major impact on their investments past, present, and especially future. And, you know, we love inflation and we dislike inflation all at the same time. So let’s just start with that. You know, I like to say that inflation could be the good, the bad and the ugly, you know, we like inflation because it erodes a way the debt we have on our investments, you know, especially with real estate. So it makes that debt worth less as time goes on. So we love inflation for that. Also inflation causes the price to increase on our property, increasing our net worth, even if it’s a nominal terms, but we like inflation because it drives the prices up. But at the same time we’re consumers and we don’t like inflation because it makes things more expensive. So having set the stage with that, let’s just start with the most basic thing. Um, you know, this is kind of an elementary question, but why should we even care about inflation? I’ve kind of set the stage, but can you maybe add some context to that? And then we’ll just kind of dive in.
Right. Well, so inflation matters because if we do have significantly higher rates of inflation, then interest rates will move up because of course, no one wants to lend you money, say 5% of the inflation rates, 10%, because they would clearly lose a lot of money. So when inflation moves higher interest rates move higher, when interest rates move higher than it, of course becomes more expensive to borrow money. So fewer people borrow money and fewer people invest in property for instance, or the stock market. And so property prices and stock prices tend to fall. So that’s the main reason. And of course the economy tends to weaken. If interest rates are much higher.
Richard, A lot of people relate inflation to what they hear on the news and in the media, which is the consumer price index also known as just the CPI, it’s the government’s model. And then, you know, sometimes you hear about core CPI. Is this the best way to measure inflation, especially in terms of the real rate of inflation, or do you have a better metric?
The truth is there. If you really want to know what’s happening, you would have to look at every single good soul. I mean, the truth is the price of some things are becoming more expensive and the price of other things are becoming cheaper and it’s always like that. And they try to aggregate all of these prices together to give us an index that allows the Fed to try to manage the economy in some sort of sensible way. So I’m in Schneider, lived in Hong Kong in the mid 1980s back then it used to cost a fortune to call back home even for just 15 minutes, like a hundred dollars. And now of course you can call anyone in the world for free and not only speak to them, but look at them. And so, you know, of course the telecommunication costs have collapsed. Computer costs have collapsed. Chip costs have collapsed. So a lot of things are falling, but a lot of things are appreciating. And then they’re on a different subject. There are commodities, commodities are wildly volatile. Sometimes they shoot up 20, 30, 40%. And then the next year they’re down 20, 30, 40%. I mean, just one example in June of 2008, the Bloomberg commodity price index was up 40% in June. You’re on a year and nine months later, it was down 53% year on year. So that’s, there are many examples of that going back for the last 100 years, commodity prices swing wildly. So what’s the Fed to do the Fed can’t respond every time commodity prices shoot up because they’re just too volatile and it would be impossible for the Fed to try to manage the economy if they responded to every spike or crash in commodity prices. Remember just a year ago, the price of oil was negative $40 a barrel.
So the Fed and this is really what matters, not so much. What I think is the proper index for inflation. What matters is what the Fed thinks is the proper index for measuring inflation and what the Fed looks at is the core personal consumption price index, the core PCE price index. They call it core because it strips out changes in food and energy prices. And that’s their favorite measure of inflation. That’s the one they monitor and that’s the one they would like to see increase every year at, at an average of 2% a year. The problem is they haven’t been able to hit their 2% inflation target really for decades on a sustained basis. Going back to the year 2000, this core PC price index has increased by 1.7% a year. And going back to 2010, it’s been even lower 1.6% a year. The most recent number in February, it was up 1.4% year on year, which was slightly lower than the month before. So that’s what the Fed looks at when it considers inflation. And when it thinks about what it needs to do about inflation.
This might be a tangent question, but why a 2% inflation rate, why is that their target? Is there something magical about that number? I never understood why they chose 2% as their target.
I think the main reason is they want to have some flexibility for one thing that a little bit of inflation lubricates the market on. It’s good that you have a little bit of prices going up just a little bit. But another thing is if it were only 0%, if that was, if that were their target, then it would be easy for the economy to slip into deflation before they could react and do something about it. And they don’t like deflation, deflation as much more damaging to the economy than low rates of inflation. Right? As we’ve seen in Japan, once the economy is in a sustained deflation pattern, then people tend to delay future purchases in the belief that things will become cheaper next year or so the theory goes, so they want to avoid any deflation. So the 2% is what they aim at. And that’s not just in the US but that’s generally the case with most central banks.
Yeah. My understanding is that’s because most of the economies, if not all the economies around the world are now based on credit. I mean, our entire economic system is built upon credit and expanding credit. So if you don’t have inflation, you have contractions. It’s the opposite of actually having that credit liquidity, correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s very dangerous to an economy when you have a credit-based monetary system.
Well, that’s one of my biggest themes throughout my work. I believe that our economic system has evolved from 19th century capitalism into what I now call creditism because it’s now credit growth that drives economic growth. In fact, going back to 1950, anytime that total credit in the US, and this is adjusted for inflation, anytime total credit has grown by less than 2%, the US has gone into a recession. That’s happened nine times between 1950 and 2009. And the recession doesn’t end until we get another big surge of credit expansion. And so our economy has now become dependent on credit growth. And the credit starts to, as I said, if it grows by less than 2% adjusted for inflation, we have a recession. If it contracts, we have a depression. And so the government policymakers attempt to manage the economy to ensure that we have credit growth, because they, that if we don’t do the economy could spiral into a new, great depression. And so it’s important to understand that because it helps you understand what the policy makers are likely to do next. And with that understanding, it helps you make better investment decisions.
Yeah, I think that’s the unspoken truth. So many people complain at every level that, you know, we’re printing money, printing money. And I say that in air quotes, but that we’re constantly juicing the economy with more of this liquidity, this quantitative easing coming out of the Fed. But the reality is is we don’t have a choice. We have to keep putting new, fresh money into the system. Otherwise we will go backwards. We start to, you know, go through a deflationary period and we can’t do that. So we essentially we’ve created our own infinite Ponzi scheme. I don’t know what else to call it, but we have to continually keep adding new, fresh currency into the system to keep things flowing. Is that a true statement or no?
Yes. But it’s interesting that none of the policymakers going back, as far as you want to look plan for this, to evolve this way, this just evolve naturally, right? Looking back several decades, people believed. And it was true that if the government spent too much money and had very large budget deficits, or if the central bank created too much money through quantitative easing, if you will. And that tended to cause high rates of inflation and it did in the past, but it doesn’t anymore. Something absolutely fundamental has changed so that now governments can have these extraordinarily large budget deficits and the Fed can create trillions of dollars a year and pump it into the financial markets. And we still don’t have inflation. So what’s changed. What’s changed is what I’ve been observing firsthand in Asia for the last three and a half decades. Globalization. When I first got to Hong Kong, I would make business trips around Southern China.
And even then there were factories, as far as the eye could see full of 19 year old women earning $3 a day. So it was clear that the United States was going to de-industrialized and that this was going to be extraordinarily deflationary. So let’s say back under the bretton woods system or the gold standard before the Brentwood system trade between countries had to balance. And that’s because if the United States have, or any other country, the US had a large trade deficit, say with England, it would have to pay for that deficit with gold. It would literally have to put its gold on a ship and send it over to England. And since gold was money, the money supply in the US would contract very sharply and the US would go into severe recession. There would be more unemployment. And so people would stop buying so many things from England.
England on the other hand would have more gold credit would expand their economy would boom, that end up importing more things from the United States and trade would come back into balance. There was an automatic adjustment mechanisms that ensure that trade between countries balanced. And so every country was more or less a closed domestic economy. And that meant if you overheated the US economy by very large government budget deficits, or too much money creation, pretty soon everyone was fully employed. And all the steel factories and automobile factories were working at full capacity. And you started getting domestic bottlenecks, pushing up the price of not only steel and automobiles, but labor costs, wage rates. And that’s what we saw in the late sixties. Early 1970s, we got into a period of wage push spiral inflation, but then starting from the bretton woods system broke down in 1971.
After a few years, the US discovered that he could buy things from other countries and it no longer had to pay with gold. It could just pay with paper dollars or more realistically with us government bonds. And there was no limit as to how many of these the us could create. So starting in 1980, the S 81 US started running large trade deficits. And by 1985, the US trade deficit was three and a half percent of us GDP, which was entirely unprecedented. But that was just the beginning by 2006, the US trade deficit was $800 billion in that one year alone, that was 6% of us GDP. So the economy was no longer constrained by the size of our workforce or by the size of the America’s industrial capacity. Suddenly we had a global economy and in the global economy population is about 23 times larger than the US population.
Moreover, most of these people earn far, far less money than the average American worker did. So this has been extraordinarily deflationary, and this has allowed the US to run very large budget deficits and to finance it with a lot of paper, money creation, people don’t remember often enough that president Reagan during his eight years as president the US government debt tripled in just eight years, because the combination of tax cuts, but also a very aggressive us government investment in the military. And that created a booming economy during the Reagan years, but there was still no inflation. The inflation rate came down and down and down from the early 1980s onward. And the reason was suddenly we’re running these very large trade drug deficits with the rest of the world. So our trade deficit acts as a safety valve that ensures that the domestic economy doesn’t overheat and cause us inflation. We can now tap into the whole world’s supply of labor and excess industrial capacity. And that’s why we haven’t had inflation for decades. That’s why the Fed has been unable to hit its 2% inflation target
Is that a trend that’s continuing? Or is that a trend that has flattened out now since we’ve been in a global economy for literally decades?
No, it’s still going on. There are still 2 billion people in the world who live on less than $3 a day. So we have essentially a limitless supply of ultra low cost labor that will last for generations.
Wow. Is this what you refer to in your latest videos on Macro Watch, which are excellent. You refer to the economy, ain’t what it used to be. Is this what you’re referring to?
That’s right. Our economy used to be a closed domestic economy that didn’t have a deficit, the rest of the world. I sometimes describe this. You can think of our economy as a fishbowl. At that time, the economy was a little goldfish swimming around in this little fish bowl. Well, now this fish bowl has been dropped into the ocean right of the global economy. And all the fish has to do is swim out the top. And now it finds itself in a world of vast riches and labor capacity and industrial capacity. So our economy is no longer what it was now, it’s a global economy. And so this completely changes the policy options available to our government as we are discovering, this allows, I think we’re finding again and again, after 2008, the US government budget deficit shot up to $1.4 trillion. I think it was in 2009 and it was above a trillion dollars a year for four or five years in a row.
And the Fed created at that time three and a half trillion dollars, which expanded the size of the Fed’s assets by four or five times in 2007, the Fed’s total assets were about 900 billion, but by 2014 they had grown to 4.5 trillion. So people at that time thought that so much quantitative easing round one, two and three would lead to high rates of inflation in the US and uh, no one, including me. I thought initially that QE, no one had imagined that something like QE was possible because they had all been taught that it would lead to high rates of inflation. And it looked like it was going to initially say in 2011, food prices spiked everywhere in the world. And for instance, that led to the Arab spring, that destabilized all of North African large parts of the middle East, but the next year, because of the higher food prices, all the farmers planted more food and the commodity prices came back down again.
So what we discovered is that we’re living in a new economic environment now where these massive government depths as are possible, and that it’s possible to finance them with extraordinarily large amounts of money creation by the central banks without leading to high rates of inflation. So this absolutely totally changes the way we should understand economics classical economic theory was built on a foundation stone of the assumption that gold was money. All of classical economic theory was built up around that initial premise. Once gold stopped being money that pulled that foundation stone out from under all of the structure of theory that was built on top of it. And now the economy simply doesn’t work the way that did in the past. Now it is possible for us to run the economy very hot with large amounts of government deficit spending and large amounts of money creation with still without getting too high rates of inflation.
You know, when people have been debating this for four years, many, many years, I’ve heard people debate this and talk about the possibility of high rates of inflation or hyperinflation, just because of the amount of currency that we’ve been creating, even right after the great recession. But this is been not only continuing but accelerating. I mean, now we’re not even talking about the hundreds of billions of dollars. We’re talking about, you know, the trillions of dollars that we’re adding and listening to what you’re saying. It just sounds like the runway doesn’t have an end. We can just keep laying out more runway for as far as the eye can see and continue to, you know, quote unquote print money and just keep creating currency and putting that liquidity into the economic system. And we are not going to see hyperinflation. It sounds like we’re even struggling to even hit that 2% inflation rate target.
Well, that’s right. I think that’s what we’re discovering. And you’re beginning to see a fundamental shift in government policy, as a result of everyone waking up to this fact president Biden has, and Congress, they have passed the $1.9 trillion stimulus relief bill. And now they’ve begun talking about $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill to be followed by another, which would of course be stretched out over eight years. So I think it’s important that we do understand that there are new opportunities open to our society because other countries are waking up to this. For instance, China, China’s had extraordinarily rapid economic growth. They’re now starting to overtake us technologically, you know, they rolled out the 5g two years ago. We still don’t have it. You know, they have a plan that they are pursuing very aggressively with the government investing very heavily in all the industries of the future. And if we don’t get such a plan, they are going to overtake us.
I mean, within say within 15 years at the latest, if China develops artificial intelligence before we do, if they get to artificial general intelligence where machines can do everything humans can do and teach themselves to do more and more quick, faster and faster. And from that point, their technology expands exponentially and leaves everybody else in the dirt. At that point, that would be the equivalent of China. Having a nuclear monopoly is the 21st century. The rest of the world will be at their mercy. So it’s important that the United States understand that and begin investing at the government level, or at least the government funding investment, perhaps in joint ventures, but the private sector on a much more aggressive scale so that we’re not surpassed by China because once we are, there’ll be no regaining our national security.
That’s a very interesting perspective. I wasn’t expecting you to say that. I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there thinking that that’s just a bad idea, but when you put it that way, I can understand how that joint venture with the private sector to boost the country’s economic position and technological standing in the world is important. So, you know, I just hear socialism when I hear that, but that’s not what you’re saying. You’re basically saying that the government is just backstopping and helping to fund innovation and progress.
So I’ve been spending this COVID year reading all of Winston Churchill’s books on world war one and world war II. There are 11 volumes in total and the theory, and this whole story was the rise of Germany and how England just simply failed to prepare. And they were almost destroyed. And in fact, would have been destroyed, had the United States not come in in both Wars. And that strikes me that that’s exactly the position we are in now where people need to understand that. No, I have nothing against China and certainly nothing against Chinese people, but when, if they take over the world, you know, they may be, uh, benevolent. They, they may be kind rulers on the other hand, history teaches that countries with great technological superiority, rarely treat inferior countries kindly. And if we don’t act quickly, we’re going to be a second rate, vulnerable power within 15 years from now.
So it’s important for people to understand that this is sort of a war time like crisis in world war II. Of course, the government took over complete control of the economy, production prices, labor distribution, the government controlled everything, and they won the war. And in this situation, I don’t think it’s appropriate to think in terms of socialism or capitalism. We need to draw on the lessons of what is possible now. So what is possible now is that it is possible for the government to run trillion dollar budget deficits, and it is possible for the Fed to help finance those paper, money creation without causing high rates of inflation. So perhaps the best approach to this would be for the government, for instance, to through a bidding process, perhaps select the 10,000 most promising American entrepreneurs and scientists, and set up joint ventures, hundreds, perhaps thousands of joint venture companies with these entrepreneurs, the government borrows the money, perhaps the Fed funds, most of it, and the government provides the financing for these companies in exchange for the government, keeping a 60% equity stake and the entrepreneurs and the scientists manage the company in exchange for a 40% equity stake. And with the sort of funding, I believe we could easily invest $10 trillion this way over the next 10 years. And if we were to do that, that would induce a technological revolution that has the potential. Honestly, we could probably cure all the diseases we could develop artificial intelligence. First, quantum computing massively expand us productivity and make the economy grow so much faster that everyone would benefit extraordinarily. And of course, if you can expand like expectancy, even by just a few years, then that solves a lot of our issues with social security and Medicare and Medicaid. So now we can wait 30 years for social security to go bankrupt and drag the government’s budget down at that time.
Or we can invest now effectively for free with the Fed financing this by creating money. And we can invest so aggressively that we have the potential to cure the diseases. Look what this government warp, project warp speed accomplished with the government. Backstopping the private sector. We got the vaccines very, very quickly. Now we need a cancer moonshot, you know, 550,000 Americans have died of COVID. Well, 600,000 Americans die of cancer every year. And the national cancer foundation’s budget is $6 billion a year. Well, that’s not working. I mean, the Fed creates $120 billion a month. So imagine the sort of resources that we could now invest in new industries and technologies. And we need to do this. I mean, I view this as a moral imperative. We must because we can, but on top of that, we also must because if we don’t, our national security is at stake and you know, it’s not inconceivable that we will be conquered.
Yeah. I agree with you on all those points. The only fear I have is that we know what the government can be like when it comes to money management, you know, they didn’t earn it, they taxed it and it, you know, they can freely spend it. And often it just goes into, I hate to say wasted social programs because that doesn’t really sound right. But you know, places where it is not managed well, and it just goes into a black hole and, you know, you see corruption and just absolute waste. You know, this is the brilliance of the private sector. They run business as a business. They look at profit and loss and they know how to manage money.
The entire banking system did fail in 2008 and then we have Enron and WorldCom to think about. But, uh, you know, so I, I understand what you’re saying, but again, given the opportunity available to us and the dangers of us not acting, I focus not on no, I think it’s an admirable goal to have Medicare for all and free university education. On the other hand, no, I think we could pay to treat everyone who has diabetes forever, or instead we can invest enough that we can cure diabetes forever. And so my focus is on investing too very much on investing in new industries and technologies. That’s what I focus on. That’s what I want the government to do. And if we were to invest, say $10 trillion over the next 10 years, I don’t care if they waste 9.5 trillion of that 9.5 (inaudible) that was stolen. I don’t care if the remainder cures, all the diseases and insurers locks in another American century where our national security is safe, then it’s well worth it because after all the Feds, probably just going to create this money from thin air anyway.
Okay. So let’s take that and bring it back to monetary policy and inflation. So with the monetary policy that we have, it’s been very loose and you know, we’ve already covered this, but it appears that there’s no end in sight. So the only question I have about that is what’s the potential danger with this current policy?
Well, one danger to this current policy is that globalization breaks down. We’re a globalization to actually break down. Then we would once again, be back with a closed domestic economy with high rates of inflation and none of what I’ve just discussed would be possible. So that’s a threat, but that doesn’t seem very likely. So what are the dangers of this policy? Well, of course there are always problems, every generation confronts. And one problem that we’re seeing as a result of these policies is increasing income inequality within the United States, as largely to a large extent as a result of this policy of quantitative easing. But on the other hand, if we had not acted as we did in 2008, with larger three rounds of quantitative easing than all of the banks in the United States would have failed, and the economy would have gone into a great depression, we wouldn’t then be worrying about income inequality. We would be worrying about starvation and 25% unemployment and social unrest and political unrest with big swings on both ends of the political spectrum without any certainty about which side would win. So we had to do the policy. They pursued was the correct one, for instance, it was completely different than the policy pursued in 1930. When the roaring twenties, when that bubble popped the government, then didn’t really know what to do. They believed in laissez-faire and market forces and they more or less stepped back and didn’t do very much. And a third of the banks fail. The unemployment rate, went up to 25% and the depression not end until world war II started. And it only ended then because the U S government then began spending on an extraordinary, like massive scale. The government spending is what ended the great depression. But of course, by that time, Hitler had taken over Europe and militarized Japan and taken over Asia. And before it was all done, 60 million people died. So in 2020, when the pandemic began, policymakers look back at those two periods and said, which one was more successful and they follow the 2008 approach and it’s been extraordinarily successful, the economy didn’t collapse. And we’re looking at strong growth this year, hopefully.
All right, well, let’s, uh, wrap things up with the economic outlook for the U S here we’re, you know, still in the middle of COVID, but we’ve had, you know, what is essentially a full year of this pandemic. It has affected the economy. I think savings rates have gone up over this period of time because spending has been kind of curved, but I believe that spending will start to ramp up here. And honestly, I was expecting higher rates of inflation with the amount of currency being quote, unquote printed, especially right now with $120 billion being created every month for at least the short term foreseeable future. Do you have any comment on what we can expect to see in terms of real rates of inflation over the next, I don’t know, six months, 12 months, two years?
Yes. I can make some hopefully educated guesses. Remember a year ago, prices were falling. I’ve already used the example of oil being negative $40 a barrel. So sure. When you look inflation, data comes out from March and April, especially I think you are going to see a pickup in inflation, or it would be very surprising if you don’t because the year on year comparison effect is going to be very, very large prices were falling a year ago. Now they’re not now they’re going up. If anything, I mean, they’re going up. So just the year on year effect is almost certain to mean that there will be a pickup in inflation just in the next couple of months. Now looking out further. Yes, as everybody savings rate is much higher than it was before, and people are keen to go out and shop and spend and travel and do things.
So that is going to put some upward pressure on inflation as well. And on top of that, we have some supply chain bottlenecks that are well understood and discussed in the media. But the question is how much of that is going to be sustained? How long is that going? Are all those forces going to be sustained? And the really big question is since the Fed strips out, the very volatile food and energy prices, what they focus on is the core PCE inflation rate. What matters to that more than anything else is wage price inflation. When wages begin to pick up, then if they pick up on a sustained basis, then that’s the thing that tends to worry the Fed. If it goes on for very long, or it becomes very excessive, because then you move into a period where you could potentially get another round of wage push inflation, but at the moment, nearly 10 million people, 10 million, fewer Americans have jobs now than in February last year.
So before we get any wage price inflation, they’re going to have to get those 10 million people back to work. And that’s going to take some time. But even when all of those people were working a year ago, the unemployment rate was at a 50 year, low of three and a half percent. And even then we didn’t have very much wage inflation. It peaks at about 3.8% year on year at the very peak. And so why, because of globalization, our trade deficit is a big safety valve. If wages start to move up in the U S people get hired in Bangladesh instead. So not only do we have to, re-employ the 10 million people who already have jobs now, but there’s also an infinite pool of low cost labor. So it’s, it’s difficult to see that inflation while it will pick up somewhat this year. It’s difficult to see it being sustainable.
And it’s unlikely that it’s going to continue being high for very many, you know, for a couple of two or three years in the future, it will settle back down again. And the Fed has made it very clear that they changed their policy in August. They said, first of all, in the past, we have acted preemptively. When we thought that the economy might start to overheat. When the unemployment rate was falling too low, in our opinion, we acted preemptively and started hiking, the Federal funds rate and tightening monetary policy in advance to make sure that didn’t happen. But what we found is that the unemployment rate falling and falling much below the level that we thought would lead to high rates of inflation. So we’re not going to act preemptively latest time. We’re not going to hike interest rates until we actually see the inflation back at the target level that we want it to be at.
And moreover, since we have undershot inflation for the last two decades, we are going to allow it to overshoot the 2% inflation target so that it averages 2% over the long run. So this means something since it’s undershot for so long, this means that the core PC inflation rate could move up to two and a half percent or even 3% and stay there for months, perhaps even a couple of years before the Fed would feel compelled to tighten monetary policy significantly either by hiking the Federal funds rate or by reducing the amount of quantitative easing they’re doing every month, 120 billion a month. So it’s not going to be easy to push inflation up and keep it up on a sustained basis. And any transitory hike. And the inflation rate is the Fed is going look straight through that. And until they’re convinced that inflation is going to remain above their target on a sustained basis, monetary policy is going to remain very loose. And given the deflationary forces of globalization, it seems probable that the inflation rate will continue to be low in the U S over the next say, five years and beyond.
So, you’re saying that the inflation rate could still continue to be below 2%, but it is not improbable that the Fed is okay with inflation rates being above that target 2%, because it’s no longer a target. They’re just trying to average it out to 2% over time.
That’s they have said that on numerous occasions that they will allow the inflation rate to go above 2% before they tighten, because they want it to average 2% over the long run so that people believe them. When they say that they’re going to hit their targets
And correct me if I’m wrong, but they can’t affect wage inflation directly. Anyway, all they can do is control, I guess, credit to allow for higher employment lowering the unemployment rate. And that supply demand factor is what is ultimately going to push wages up because there’s a shortage of labor. Is that a true statement?
If you ignore the 2 billion people who live on less than $3 a day, well, the job $10 a day,
I’m thinking just within the US but I guess they can’t control that because even though we have borders, that the reality is is that corporations can offshore their labor. They outsource it.
And that’s because they have done that. That’s why the placement rate has been so low, starting from it’s collapsed in the early 1980s, the central bank likes to take credit for the low levels of inflation. All were very brilliant. We manage monetary policy in such a clever way that we kept the inflation right down, but it doesn’t have much to do with them at all. It’s all about globalization driving down wage rights.
Yeah. Well, let’s button this up with one last quick question here. You know, people listening to this are real estate investors and to a large degree stock market investors, and they invest in other asset classes as well. You don’t give any investment advice, but if you were an investor, would you say you are bullish or bearish on these investments over the next one or two years?
So to give a full answer to that would take a long time, but let me say on the positive side, there’s so much liquidity being pumped into the markets now by the Fed $120 billion a month. And there’s also on top of that, a lot of money coming from the government through various channels. That’s also being pumped into the economy. This should continue to put upward pressure on asset prices. That’s the bullish side of the story on the bearer side of the story is the market is nervous about the inflation rate moving up. And they’re probably going to continue to be nervous about this for many months into the future, if not for the next year or more. And so that’s already pushed up the yield on the 10 year government bond to above 1.7% and that’s caused some nervousness, significant nervousness in the stock market in particular.
And of course it’s pushing up mortgage rates already as well. But despite that we have so far, the, this tidal wave of money that’s hitting the markets is winning out in this battle between the bull case and the bear case, because last night, both the S&P and DAL set a new record high, and that’s probably going to persist for, If I had to bet, I would suspect that we are going to continue to see continued upward pressure on stock prices and property prices, as long as the quantitative easing continues now, with that said, everyone needs to be aware that asset prices are very inflated relative to past standards. And I think it’s very easy to say there is a bubble in the stock market has been such a wild frenzy going on there on many levels. So there will be a day when there is a big, big correction. And that day is probably going to come when the Fed starts hinting that it’s going to begin tapering the amount of money it creates every month, right? Hence that is going to start reducing quantitative easing. So that will be the day when the market sells off. So until that day, there’s probably going to continue to be upward pressure on stock prices and property prices.
Yeah brilliant. Well, I hope some people listening to this are smart enough to get out of harm’s way with, you know, overinflated stock market pricing and put it into some hard assets, like income producing real estate, which is something I talk about all the time. And, you know, real estate is just a good inflation hedge always has been just because it’s made out of commodities, sticks, bricks, concrete, and copper.
I agree with you. I, I’m a big fan of owning rental houses on pieces of land. Yeah. The land is as good as gold and you can generate cashflow from your rental properties.
Yep. 100%. Richard, you’re a very smart guy. I’m glad I had you on the show today. And, you know, I love the tagline on your website, “Economics in the age of Fiat Money.” So share with our listeners how they can find you and get more information and also learn a little bit more about your video newsletter Macro Watch.
Okay, thanks. So yes, I produced a video newsletter potentially every two weeks. I make a new video. It’s me making a PowerPoint presentation on some subject, I think is important. That’s likely to have an impact on the economy, but also on all the asset prices, stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, interest rates. And these are typically 15 to 20 minutes long each video. And they typically have 20 or 30 slides that can be downloaded. That said there are exceptions. The last video I made was called surging money, supply growth won’t cause inflation, that one was 35 minutes long and it had 70 charts that can be downloaded. So I call it a mini course in money, the relationship between money and inflation. But so if your listeners would like to check that out, they can visit my website at richardduncaneconomics.com, that’s richardduncaneconomics.com. And if they’d like to subscribe to Macro Watch, they can do so at a 50% discount.
If they click on the subscribe button, there’ll be prompted to put in a discount coupon code. If they use the coupon code passive, they can subscribe to Macro Watch at a 50% discount. They’ll then get these new videos every couple of weeks for the next year, but they’ll also have immediate access to all the videos and the archives from the last seven and a half years, something like 75 hours of videos covering really every important topic and macro economics and explaining them, I think very clearly with lots of charts and slides. So I hope they’ll visit richardduncaneconomics.com and consider using the coupon code PASSIVE. And at the very least, while they’re at the website, they can sign up for my free blog, which is Richard Duncan, my free blog, which also comes out every week or two.
Yeah, that’s great. Thank you very much for the discount code. Yeah. And just an unsolicited recommendation from me, you know, there’s no affiliate program. I don’t get compensated. I’m not paid to say anything. I am a subscriber. You just present the information in a very clear, easy to digest and easy to follow way that makes economics and macro economics so easy to understand, and you can relate to it. You can see how it impacts us, you, your personal financial future. So from that perspective, I think it’s one of the best educational tools when it comes to economics and macro economics out there. And I think you’re undercharging for it, to be honest with you, it is an absolute steal of a deal in terms of value. So anyway, I do, I do recommend it. I do endorse it again. Unsolicited recommendation here.
Thank you. I appreciate that.
Absolutely. Well, Richard, let’s see if we can get you on the show about once every six months or so, because things are changing and it’ll be interesting to see where we are six months from now a year from now, with everything going on in the world. So I hope to bring you back on again soon, Richard.
Okay, thanks. So I’d like to do that.
Well, thanks for your time again, Richard. I appreciate it. And everybody else, and we’ll just wrap up here right after this.
Well, I hope you enjoyed today’s interview with Richard Duncan, someone who is very intelligent and super interesting to listen to. So I hope you take advantage of his 50% discount for his video. Macro watch newsletter. It is very interesting and he does a great, great job with it. So that is it for today. Let me know if you have any questions, remember to contact my team of investment counselors. If you have anything that you want to look at in terms of real estate investing, remember our strategy sessions are free, and if you understand how real estate can be a fantastic hedge against inflation, you will certainly take a close look at it. If you haven’t already remembered subscribe, click that subscribe button on episode comes out every week, usually on a Tuesday, sometimes on a Wednesday, help us spread the word, visit us on iTunes and leave us a rating and review. Thank you for listening. And I will see you on our next episode.
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