Recently the New York Times
reported on the ShotMaster Pro, a remarkable piece of machinery that can make eight different espressos at a time, or 700 per hour. The cost of this modern “robot” is $50,000, which apparently is the annual cost of employing a human barista in New York City.
Readers of reasonable intelligence can hopefully see where this is going. While economists believe consumption powers economic growth, the obvious reality is that investment does. And the impetus for investment is to produce exponentially more goods and services at costs that continue to plummet. Applied to the ShotMaster, what currently fetches $50,000 will soon retail for a fraction of the previous number.
This is worth keeping in mind with economists top of mind. In a recent opinion piece, Harvard professor Jason Furman wrote with evident worry that “To bring price increases down to 2%, we may need to tolerate unemployment of 6.5% for two years.” The discredited Phillips Curve lives in faculty lounges!
Back to reality, inflation has nothing to do with unemployment. Think about it. Consider Lebanon at present, Argentina for decades, and perhaps Mexico in decades past. Inflation is a decline in the unit of account. Put more plainly, inflation is a currency devaluation. More on actual inflation in a bit, but for now it’s useful to remind readers that a focus on unemployment when contemplating inflation is a sign of the mind wandering, or a thought non sequitur.
To see why, let’s imagine for a moment that chiropractic treatments are revealed to cure more than bad backs. Let’s imagine they’re discovered to cure heart disease. If so, readers can likely imagine a huge surge of chiropractic visits that would occur in concert with higher wages for the practitioners alongside higher costs for patients. Inflation? Not in the least. If we’re spending more for treatments, we logically have fewer dollars for other goods and services.
Repeat it over and over again: demand cannot cause inflation. A rising price of one market good logically implies falling prices for other goods. Inflation is yet again a currency devaluation.
Obviously Furman doesn’t see it that way. To him, rising demand is inflation because it allegedly implies a mismatch between demand and supply. Except that demand is what happens after we’ve supplied goods and services. Furman’s analysis presumes that Haitians are poor because there is not enough “demand” in Port-Au-Prince. Actually, there is not enough production there and a lack of demand is the logical consequence of the lack of production. Demand mirrors supply, but supply comes first.
Still, Haiti isn’t just useful as a way of showing how so-called “demand” is unrelated to inflation. Haiti is a reminder that the US economy is part of a global whole. Economies are just people, and everything we Americans produce and consume is a result of global production and cooperation among producers. This simple truth is seemingly lost on Furman.
Evidence supporting the above claim is his worry about a lack of “slack” in the US economy. To Furman, inflation springs from demand not just for goods and services, but also from demand for labor and production capacity. As Furman sees it, low unemployment and high capacity utilization in the US are inflationary for them signaling a limited supply of workers and places for those workers to produce. Furman forgets that the economy is global.
He forgets that US producers employ workers around the world, and production capacity around the world. Again, everything American companies produce is the end result of painstaking production in countries near and far from the US These countries include Haiti.
Furman likes to write about how he “models” inflation by modeling unemployment and capacity utilization, but his modelling ignores how everything is a global concept. Assuming the impossibility that is “full employment” in the US, the economy is once again global. Please keep this in mind as Furman wrings his hands about the need to put people out of work in order to bring inflation down. Such a view isn’t remotely serious.
At which point it’s worth revisiting the ShotMaster. It’s not unreasonable to speculate yet again that investment in this modern robot will rapidly push its price down such that ShotMasters will more and more spell human workers inside the Starbucks
Which brings us back to inflation. It’s yet again a devaluation of the currency. Over the last 18 months the dollar has soared against every major foreign currency and also lightly crushed gold. Yes, the “inflation” that has Furman biting his nails would be the first one in the history of mankind that took place amid a rising currency. It should have serious readers seriously wondering if they’ve mistaken rising prices for inflation. There’s an ocean of difference between the two.