Inflation; The government giveth, and the government certainly taketh
Overview: it’s been over two since the Federal Reserve and US government first enacted their policy plans to battle the COVID pandemic, and the longer-term results of these actions are becoming more self-evident. I wish to take this time to discuss some of my findings, offer some theories behind this recent runup in inflation, and provide the reader with some conclusions.
- First, it’s much simpler to tax the people surreptitiously through inflation rather than through direct taxation to finance social largesse.
- Second, while the nominal levels of debt continue to climb, the U.S. government and Federal Reserve purposely engineered a price inflation campaign, while concomitantly suppressing real bond yields to effectively reduce the covid-related financial debt burden substantially.
- Third, I submit to the reader that the COVID-related monetary and fiscal measures were essentially just social, fiscal, and debt repudiation experiments carried out in real time.
Let’s start by taking a look at some of the data on which I have been concentrating. Looking at the data through a longer-term lens, I have to conclude that the plan is moving along fairly well. Instead of chaos, I see order and a continuation of the trends that existed before the covid campaign.
Inflation is a brutal indirect tax on the people, while it inflates debt burdens away
Let’s take a look at the CPI index data from the above chart (Chart One), and observe how it has helped to diminish the true USG debt burden.
For the sake of simplicity, I downloaded the CPI index chart data, which was indexed at 100 as of July 2012. As of January 2020, the index stood at 112.6. As of June 2022, the value was 128.6. So, let’s take the percent change in the CPI over that timeframe to determine how much we should reduce the real burden of the outstanding UST debt level just prior to the explosion in its amount due to covid-related social spending.
128.6 – 112.6 = 16
16 / 112.6 = 14.2%
Due to the official measurement of CPI growing by 14.2% since the beginning of 2020, we must reduce by 14.2% the nominal public sector debt outstanding as of the beginning of 2020.
Let’s look at total public debt outstanding as of January 2020: $23.224 trillion
Now, we reduce this by 14.2%. I come up with $19,926 trillion
And just like that, the public sector effectively defaulted on $3.3 trillion, and that was just from holdings as of the beginning of 2020. Moreover, we used the official CPI data. When we take the extra debt issuance and the marginal increases in CPI into consideration, the public sector has effectively defaulted on $4 trillion. Bond holders pay the price, as the level of interest payments from the federal government are only a small fraction of the price increases. Furthermore, any interest income the Fed receives net of expenses is generally remitted back to the UST.
The real burden and market value of outstanding USTs and public debt have fallen
Although higher inflation affects nominal interest rates, real bond yields have never been lower in modern history (Chart Two). Since the prices of outstanding Treasuries have fallen as market yields rose, the effective marketable burden to the government is even less (Chart One). We can see this in Chart One to look at the value of outstanding USTs reconciled to market value, rather than face or par value. Treasury holders pay the tax on this one. These holders are willing to accept a much lower interest payment than CPI inflation would normally indicate. The government is effectively taxing the fixed-income investor.
I look at Chart Three and observe at how rapidly nominal GDP has lifted off its covid-related lows. Once again, inflation has done the heavy lifting; but in the bond world, inflation of any kind benefits the borrower with fixed-rate debts oligations.
Nominal federal budget deficits are falling to below pre-covid levels
If nominal federal government budget deficit levels are falling, this means in this current inflationary environment, real deficits are truly getting smaller.
Analysis of notable trends: Over the first nine months of FY2022, the federal government ran a deficit of $515 billion—23% the size of the deficit over the same period in FY2021 ($2.2 trillion), and 69% of that recorded at this point in FY2019 ($746 billion), prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Strong revenue growth and lower levels of spending contributed to the shrinking deficit. So far this year, revenues totaling $3.8 trillion were $779 billion (25%) greater than over the same period in FY2021. Individual income and payroll tax receipts largely drove this spike, increasing $690 billion (27%) as wages and salaries continued to increase amid a tight labor market. Corporate tax revenues also rose by $41 billion (15%). Unemployment insurance receipts also rose by $14 billion (36%) as states continued to replenish their trust funds, and customs duties and excise tax receipts went up by $16 billion (29%) and $11 billion (21%) respectively, reflecting an increase in imports and economic activity.
According to the US Treasury, Debt to the Penny
As of 7/14/2022 – Debt held by public: $23,869,748,457,708, Intragovernmental Holdings: $6,622,970,283,513, Total Public Debt Outstanding: $30,492,718,741,221
Debt Held by the Public: All federal debt held by individuals, corporations, state or local governments, Federal Reserve Banks, foreign governments, and other entities outside the United States Government less Federal Financing Bank (FFB) securities. Debt held by the public is composed of Treasury Bills, Notes, Bonds, Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS), Floating Rate Notes (FRNs), Domestic Series, Foreign Series, State and Local Government Series (SLGS), United States Savings Securities, and a portion of Government Account Series (GAS) securities.
Intragovernmental Holdings: Government Account Series (GAS) securities held by Government trust funds, revolving funds, and special funds; and Federal Financing Bank (FFB) securities.
Total Public Debt Outstanding: Total of intragovernmental holdings and debt held by the public.
Based on the Fred chart data from Chart One, total public debt outstanding was $30,401 billion as of the end of Q1 2022. Thus, total public debt outstanding only climbed by approximately $100 billion last quarter. What this, as well as the US Treasury data, says is that total public debt as a percent of nominal GDP continues to fall in the wake of the post-covid spending deceleration. This result is not yet plotted in Chart One and Chart Three, Public debt as a percent of GDP.
By their nature, all social spending campaigns are highly effective at consolidating global wealth while simultaneously making the masses ever more dependent on the government for their handouts. The sad part is that despite all these many trillions of direct social largess, the public-at-large is in a much worse position, but cannot figure out how they lost.
Rather than seeing some sort of out of control inflationary spiral, I see a well-designed social spending experiment coupled with a subsequent defacto debt repudiation of the debt that financed the spending. Hardly anyone sees this obvious outcome, and it is all actually proceeding fairly well with very little blowback. I tip my hats to the monetary and fiscal authorities for being able to pull it off so far.
Keep in mind that these powers are only able to assuage public concern via their media persuasion and conditioning. Currently, the media are positioning these circumstances as a series of unforeseen events, misguided actions, and partisan rancor, but I see it differently.
From relying on WV Senator Manchin, the miserly scapegoat and social spending dissenter, to the receipt of higher capital gains tax revenues and earned income tax receipts from higher wages, the federal government has really been able to steady the ship.
I have to warn the reader that we are not going to give up these gains in price inflation as deflation. This monetary system is not designed to ever make this a reality. Even during the depths of the 2008 manufactured crisis, rents and overall price levels remained stable on a national level, and we never truly experienced outright deflation in the gestalt. We will not experience deflation after this current round of elevated inflation fades; rather we will observe a trend to the long term moving averages over time. The global money supplies, especially the money stock measure growth in nations like Russia and China, preclude that from ever happening. While Fed M2 skyrocketed in the immediate wake of COVID, the latest measures reveal a yoy run rate of barely 5%. Each nation picks up the baton from the other.
Inflation is a government’s best friend and your worst ally if you work for a living. If a person is not able to keep up with inflation, he or she is taxed terribly, yet unsuspectingly. Even worse, while the public is fighting amongst itself, the government, with the help of the Federal Reserve, is effectively defaulting on its own debt. Last time I checked, the Sun is still coming up in the morning.