Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Does Unemployment Cause Deflation?

I was apprised by a dear friend that in a part of the US, call center jobs have been migrating to the Philippines. Such phenomenon he sees as having a “deflationary” impact on the US economy. 

Such popular reasoning is fairly simple. Lack of jobs equals a fall in aggregate demand. Falling demand leads to falling prices. Falling prices result to more job losses. Thus the circular reasoning translates to an endless loop: a deflationary spiral.

The bottom line from such aggregate demand framework is that unemployment causes price deflation.

Of course, the alternative implication is that the Philippines, like China through alleged currency manipulation, has been “stealing jobs” from Americans.

And equally this means that for them, the optimal political solution is to inflate or apply protectionist measures or apply both against countries like the Philippines or China.

Have job losses or unemployment resulted to price deflation as alleged?

Here is a list of the largest world unemployment rates from

Since there are many nations with over 10% in unemployment rates, I will only reckon with nations with over 50% in unemployment rates

Nauru 90%
Vanatu 78.21%
Turkmenistan 70%
Zimbabwe 70%
Mozambique 60%
Djibouti 59%

Given the huge unemployment rate, then we assume that these countries, according to the aggregate demand theory, to be in a deflationary depression.

Note: there is no price inflation figure for Nauru


Vanatu’s inflation rate (chart from Index Mundi) Positive inflation.


Turkmenistan price inflation rate (chart from Positive inflation.


Zimbabwe’s post hyperinflation CPI (chart from Positive inflation.


Mozambique’s inflation rate (chart from Positive inflation.


Djibouti’s inflation rate (chart from Positive inflation.

Surprise, ALL 5 nations with the largest unemployment have ZERO account of price deflation!

So what’s wrong with such a claim or theory?

The fundamental premises are essentially misplaced:

-People all think the same or people don’t think at all. People mechanically and homogeneously follow the circular reasoning that falling demand leads to falling prices in a perpetual feedback loop to an eternal hellhole.

-People’s don't have marginal utility. All people share the same set of values, priorities, incentives and time preferences. 

-People are not human. People simply stop eating, drinking or clothing or finding shelter under a deflationary spiral. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have been jettisoned out of the window. People are caught in a stasis, freeze like a deer caught in headlights, where demand totally evaporates.

-When people don’t think or when people think the same or when people stop being people then obviously the demand and supply curve, the law of scarcity and opportunity costs becomes inapplicable or ceases to exists.

-Capital has been nonexistent to people who act or behave in aggregates.

-Inflation is NOT a monetary phenomenon so does the consequent deflation.

In the real world, economies are vastly complex, with millions of spontaneously operating parts such that wages represents only part of the myriad of factors that influence the economic environment.

Other real factors are equally or even more important, e.g. proximity to markets, size and categories of markets, state of basic infrastructure, access to credit, connectivity, technology and labor, quality of labor force, comparative advantage/s, state of legal, political and regulatory institutions and environment, tax levels, state of economic freedom, depth of capital markets, monetary regime and much more.

Most important is property rights. When property rights are not secure, no one will dare to invest no matter the relative lower, if not the lowest costs, in terms of labor wages. Who invests in North Korea or in the above 5 nations with the largest unemployment (presumably the cheapest labor force) in the world where one's capital are likely to be arbitrarily seized by the incumbent authorities?

These are real factors that can't be seen as having neutral effects on people's incentives or which operates on a vacuum. 

How about the solution where government must step in to provide jobs, by inflation or protection? 

Well government, of course, comprises of people too.

Under the aggregate demand framework, the political class have been glorified as representing “superior” set of people in terms of knowledge and virtues, relative to the market which is seen as inferior non-political people, that lays ground for interventions on so-called “market failures”.

Such is an unalloyed myth. If the romance on politics is true, then inflation or deflation won’t exist. There won’t anything known as economics.

The reality is that inflation and protectionism represents two sides of the same coin: the political economy of destruction.

As the great Ludwig von Mises explained (bold mine)
By destroying the basis of reckoning values—the possibility of calculating with a general denominator of prices which, for short periods at least, does not fluctuate too wildly—inflation shakes the system of calculations in terms of money, the most important aid to economic action which thought has evolved. As long as it is kept within certain limits, inflation is an excellent psychological support of an economic policy which lives on the consumption of capital. In the usual, and indeed the only possible, kind of capitalist book-keeping, inflation creates an illusion of profit where in reality there are only losses. As people start off from the nominal sum of the erstwhile cost price, they allow too little for depreciation on fixed capital, and since they take into account the apparent increases in the value of circulating capital as if these increases were real increases of value, they show profits where accounts in a stable currency would reveal losses. This is certainly not a means of abolishing the effects of an evil etatistic policy, of war and revolution; it merely hides them from the eye of the multitude. People talk of profits, they think they are living in a period of economic progress, and finally they even applaud the wise policy which apparently makes everyone richer.

But the moment inflation passes a certain point the picture changes. It begins to promote destructionism, not merely indirectly by disguising the effects of destructionist policy; it becomes in itself one of the most important tools of destructionism. It leads everyone to consume his fortune; it discourages saving, and thereby prevents the formation of fresh capital. It encourages the confiscatory policy of taxation. The depreciation of money raises the monetary expression of commodity values and this, reacting on the book values of changes in capital—which the tax administration regards as increases in income and capital—becomes a new legal justification for confiscation of part of the owners' fortune. References to the apparently high profits which entrepreneurs can be shown to be making, on a calculation assuming that the value of money remains stable, offers an excellent means of stimulating popular frenzy. In this way, one can easily represent all entrepreneurial activity as profiteering, swindling, and parasitism. And the chaos which follows, the money system collapsing under the avalanche of continuous issues of additional notes, gives a favourable opportunity for completing the work of destruction.
The bottom line is that previous interventionists policies, e.g. policy induced boom bust cycles, regulatory mandates, entitlements etc..., have resulted to such lack of competitiveness which neo-mercantilists try to shift the blame onto the others. Yet they are asking for more of the same thing that led to this or they seek doing the same thing over and over again but are expecting different results.

The economics of aggregatism, thus, has mostly been about pretentious or pseudo-economics wrapped in populist anti-market politics constructed from heuristics, political religion and cognitive biases, or might I say, a grand deflation in logic.

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