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Schiff vs. Hanke: Who’s to Blame for Inflation?

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Last week, Peter debated Steve Hanke, professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University, on inflation, the debt crisis, and the future of the dollar. David Lin hosted the debate on The David Lin Report and provided moderation for the event. While Peter and Hanke have their disagreements, both ultimately agree that the United States is in rough fiscal and monetary shape, and terrible monetary policy played a key role in getting it there.

The debate gets off to a fiery start when Peter and Hanke clash on inflation. First, Peter explains the crux of the problem:

“The Federal Reserve that ends up monetizing all that government debt— that is what’s driving the problem. And I think ultimately, as our budget deficits are exploding, it’s going to cause a big loss of confidence in the dollar, in U.S. treasuries. And so as the dollar starts to fall, that puts even more upward pressure on consumer prices because the dollar now has less value internationally.”

The two argue about how to define inflation:

“But that [an increasing money supply] doesn’t just cause inflation. That is inflation. What is being inflated is the money supply. You go back and get an old dictionary. Even in the 70s, you get a dictionary, Webster’s Dictionary, look up inflation and it says ‘an expansion of the money supply.’ And it’s also money and credit. Rising prices are a result, a consequence of inflation. They are not inflation, and they do not cause inflation. They are a byproduct of inflation.”

Peter claims the only way out of the current crisis is for the Fed to lean in even more to taxation via inflation:

“Nobody wants to see government spending cut dramatically. Nobody wants the US to have to honestly default on its debt. … I mean, if they raise taxes on the rich who are already paying a tremendous amount of taxes, I don’t know how much additional revenue they’re likely to get. In fact, they may even lose revenue, depending on how they do it. What we need is consumption-based taxes, like a national sales tax or a higher payroll tax. But no one’s going to vote for that!”

Hanke stresses that inflation comes solely from monetary policy, while Peter emphasizes that fiscal and monetary policy are intertwined:

“The Fed enabled the deficit spending. The Fed should have been more independent. They should have had much higher interest rates. They never should have done quantitative easing. They should be putting pressure on Congress to cut the deficit spending, just like Volcker used to do. They’re not doing it. … It takes two to tango.”

Hanke skewers the political class for deflecting the blame for inflation:

“I’m in a clarifying mood here, and that is that the idea and the propaganda that was put out by the Fed and the White House and the Congress that non-monetary factors caused the inflation problem that we’ve gotten ourselves into. That Putin oil, supply side shocks, all this rubbish— and it’s pure rubbish. What caused it is the explosion in the money supply that went up at the peak, 27% year over year, in early 2021. We’ve never seen it that high before. And as night follows day, when the money supply explodes like that with a long and variable lag, you’ll get inflation.”

Peter thinks it’s too late to stave off a recession, and Americans can feel it:

“I believe we’re in a recession. I just don’t believe a lot of the numbers that we get from the government. I know that the Great Recession of 2008 — it began in December of `07, but they didn’t officially acknowledge it until December of `08. And they went back, and they revised an entire year’s worth of data to show that we had been in a recession for the entire year. And even up until mid-2008, most economists and Wall Street strategists didn’t see a recession coming, even though we were in the middle of the Great Recession. So I think something similar could be going on. And I also think that the weakness in the economy— this stealth recession— is the reason that Biden and Harris are so unpopular.”

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