Michael Kinsley has a very strange column alleging that we’re soon going to face hyperflation: “When everybody assumes 10 percent, all the forces that produced 10 percent push it to 20 percent, and then 40 percent, and soon people are lugging currency in a wheelbarrow, as in the famous photos from Weimar Germany.”
What’s strange about the column is that I don’t know how I could possibly refute it. Kinsley freely acknowledges that “virtually every leading economist across the political spectrum” disagrees with him, and he doesn’t dispute the details of any of their analyses. He also acknowledges that while it would be possible for him to make investment decisions that reflect his belief in a coming period of inflation, he’s not doing it “because I lack the courage of my convictions.”
So neither leading economists nor Michael Kinsley himself believe that hyperinflation is just around the corner, and yet the thesis of Kinsley’s piece is that “when and if the recession is well and truly over, there is a serious danger of another round of vicious inflation” and that “[t]his time, inflation will be a lot harder to stop before it turns into hyperinflation.”
I note that not only does Kinsley’s column explicitly discuss the lack of evidence for Kinsley’s thesis, but it also details the theoretical error Kinsley is making—thinking too moralistically about the economy. He says “on economic matters, I’m a puritan.” And also that “The recession we’ve been going through did not occur for no reason.” He feels, metaphorically speaking, that it was sent by God to punish us for our overindulgence. And that while we’ve had plenty of economic pain over the past 24 months, that’s not enough: “that pain has come from the recession itself, not the cure.” Kinsley’s view is that recovery has to come with some episode of ritual purging and mass suffering over and above the suffering caused directly by the recession. In his view, a greater punishment must be over the horizon for the sake of the moral order. And since recession is, by his lights, not enough the only other economic calamity on the menu is inflation. And so, he deduces, we must be heading for inflation, even though he himself recognizes the reasoning as so specious that he won’t use it as the basis for investment decisions.