A regular listener of Glenn Beck's radio program, if they take Beck as a reliable source, will probably think some pretty funny things are going on in the world right now. One of Beck's favorite nightmare scenarios is a dollar collapse and massive inflation. Someone who listened to his show on October 6 might believe that the world is about to "wake up to Bernanke's inflation plan," that "your dollar is going to be worthless" and "they are stealing from your bank account right now," all thanks to inflation.
Today, Beck decided to offer his listeners a vision of the future if Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, the "Saddam Hussein of economics," has his way. From the October 7 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program:
The Fed is mulling inflation as a fix. Can I, may I ask, can somebody help me out on that, because they tried that before. They tried it Zimbabwe and they tried that in the Weimar Republic. That's not a fix. To inflate your money to be able to pay down your debt. That's not a fix.
The Fed has announced now that inflation is part of their new policy. Perfect. Perfect. We are officially in Weimar Republic territory. It's all out in the open now. We've been telling you they were doing it for a while but now it's all out in the open.
This is a perfect example of Beck fear mongering as only he can.
But why is this dire comparison so ridiculous? First, the facts about what the United States has to look forward to if Beck's horror show predictions come true:
In the decade leading up to 2007, cumulative inflation in Zimbabwe was 3.8 billion percent. That's not a typo. BILLION. In that same time period, living standards fell by 38 percent. Weimar Germany's experience with hyperinflation was much shorter, though no less socially destructive. "On average, prices quadrupled each month during the sixteen months of hyperinflation," according to Michael K. Salemi of Econlib.org. Salemi goes on to write that "during the German hyperinflation the number of German marks in circulation increased by a factor of 7.32 × 10^9."
Contrast that with what the Federal Reserve is considering. From MarketWatch.com:
...policy makers next month also may accept inflation climbing above the Fed's informal target, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing speeches from Dudley as well as comments that Chicago Fed chief Charles Evans gave to the newspaper. The Fed's informal inflation target is between 1.5% and 2%.See external link to WSJ.com story on Fed's inflation target.
In the oft-cited Dudley speech, the New York Fed president suggested that if inflation were to undershoot the central bank's target by half a percentage point next year, the Fed could offset the miss with an additional half-point increase later on. See earlier story on Dudley speech.
Outside the Fed, International Monetary Fund chief economist Olivier Blanchard said doubling inflation targets to 4% from 2% would not be risky, the Journal report said.
And here is a graph of the yearly change in inflation over the past ten years:
The job of the Federal Reserve, its statutory mandate, is to set and execute monetary policy so as to "promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates." In the face of low and falling inflation along with low and falling interest rates and employment that is nowhere near "maximum," is it realistic to worry about Weimar-style hyperinflation? Maybe if you're a conspiracy theorist who thinks the President and his friends are engineering the downfall of society. Otherwise, comparisons between the United States attempting to hit a 2 or 3 or 4 percent inflation target with Zimbabwe and Weimar Germany are simply laughable and would call into question the credibility of the person who made them -- if that person had any credibility left, that is.
Also, if having an official explicit inflation target means you're in Weimar Germany, then that means that we should be seeing people with barrels of money in New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Israel, Brazil, Chile, Poland, Colombia, Korea, South Africa, Thailand, Hungary, Iceland, Mexico, and Norway - all countries that use inflation targeting as their official monetary policy.
By the way, Zimbabwe made major currency reforms last year that have been largely effective in ending hyperinflation. What beacon of stability did they turn to for their new official currency? The U.S. dollar.