Why inflation could be on the way back
Are we about to move into a new era of unexpectedly high inflation, rather than the below-target inflation we are used to? Many dismiss this view. But the boy who cried wolf was right the last time. A book just out is crying wolf insistently. Notably, it states that, as a result of today’s fiscal and monetary largesse, “as in the aftermath of many wars, there will be a surge in inflation, quite likely more than 5 per cent, or even on the order of 10 per cent in 2021”. That would change everything.
The prediction comes from The Great Demographic Reversal by Charles Goodhart, a respected academic, and Manoj Pradhan, formerly at Morgan Stanley. Its prophecy of imminent inflationary doom is in fact less significant than its analytical framework. These authors argue that the world economy is about to shift regimes. The last time this happened was the 1980s. The big shifts four decades ago were not so much the desire to bring inflation under control, but globalisation and the entry of China into the world economy. That era, they argue, which was one of low inflation and high, rising indebtedness, is now ending. Its inverse will soon follow.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the economies of China, the former Soviet empire and other developing countries opened up. The Uruguay Round was agreed, which led to the birth of the World Trade Organization, to which China acceded in 2001. International economic integration advanced apace, notably through trade, but also via direct investment from high-income countries. The global labour supply for production of tradeable goods rose enormously. The big trading economies had falling birth rates and still youthful populations, reinforced by the entry of women into their labour forces. So the workforce grew faster than population and output per head rose ahead of that per worker.