price stability

A is A

© Can Stock Photo / hurricanehank

At the height of ancient Greek civilization, the philosopher Aristotle taught the Law of Identity. A is A. Everything has a single identity, not two or more, and two different things do not share the same identity. A is A. A dog is not a cat; an orange is not an orangutan, an olive is an olive.

One wonders what has been lost through the centuries, when considering Federal Reserve Bank policy. The Fed, as it is known, is charged with a dual mandate. It is supposed to promote maximum employment and stable prices.

If Aristotle were alive today, he might teach that stable prices are stable prices. This would be in accordance with the Law of Identity. A thing is what it is. Yet the Fed has adopted a 2% inflation target, supposedly in accordance with its mandate of price stability1.

At 2% inflation, a dollar today buys only 98 cents worth of goods next year and about 96 cents the year after. Prices would double every 35 years or so, under this inflation target. Over the course of a century, a dollar would shrink to about 12 cents in purchasing power. In what sense is this ‘price stability?’ It violates the simple precept that Aristotle taught 2,300 years ago.

One error some people make is presuming the things we can measure are important, and the things we cannot measure are unimportant. Higher dollar volumes of activity are presumed to be good. So when productivity or technological improvements reduce prices of things we purchase and use, we are obviously better off—but conventional economic statistics may indicate otherwise.

There are ramifications for us as investors. The threats to our prosperity from inflation may be discounted by the Federal Reserve. The advantages of technological progress are understated. We think this means we need to be more sensitive to the damage that future inflation might do to our wealth, and the opportunities presented by technological progress.

Clients, if you have any questions about this or any other pertinent topic, please email us or call.

1Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System,

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