Friday, November 05, 2010

A logic against QE

Now that extra $600 billion is available to play, world markets are enjoying the party. However, there is a strong logic that suggests QE won't work without other changes. Here is my attempt to explain it:

Let us take a simplistic equation [1],
Personal Income = Expenditure = Price * Volume

In this equation, Volume represents volume of various goods we buy. Volume of goods consumed represents our quality of life. Simply put, if we are able to buy 2 computers every year, then our quality of life is better than if we can afford just one. So volume going up is a good thing in general. 

Price represents price of each of those goods. If price goes up and volume remains same or increases, then the price increase is acceptable. However, if price goes up and volume goes down, we have a problem. In economic theory, both phenomenon are defined as inflation. But effect of one is acceptable while other reduces the quality of our lives. We end up with inflation when there is too much money in the system and too few goods.

Now let us come to income. Income for the next year feeds on changes in price and volume in previous year. This is called feedback loop. So in general, if prices or volumes or both rise then incomes will follow.

However, within this generalization we have some specific differences. If volumes rise the chances that employment will increase is higher. If only prices rise and volumes don't (i.e. there is still extra inventory or idle capacity at current employment level) then employment does not rise. To take it a step further, if prices rise (because costs are higher) and volumes fall (as in bad kind of inflation) then employment may actually reduce. 

In current scenario, the income feedback loop is broken and we are pumping money by trillions. Unless we fix the income feedback loop, we are going to have inflation of bad kind. There is a tremendous risk to standard of living. It is surprising that politicians of the world do not understand this simple logic. I am beginning to smell malicious intent here. The only other alternative is incredulous stupidity.

[1]: I have made many assumption, including no savings or debt. This is to simplify the logic.
Paul Krugman's latest post on Why Inflation targets need to be high wonkish works on similar logic but assumes sufficiently high inflation will fix income loop.