To gauge the economic effects of inflation, let us see what happens when a group of counterfeiters set about their work. Suppose the economy has a supply of 10,000 gold ounces, and counterfeiters, so cunning that they cannot be detected, pump in 2000 “ounces” more. What will be the consequences? First, there will be a clear gain to the counterfeiters. They take the newly-created money and use it to buy goods and services. In the words of the famous New Yorker cartoon, showing a group of counterfeiters in sober contemplation of their handiwork: “Retail spending is about to get a needed shot in the arm.” Precisely. Local spending, indeed, does get a shot in the arm. The new money works its way, step by step, throughout the economic system. As the new money spreads, it bids prices up–as we have seen, new money can only dilute the effectiveness of each dollar. But this dilution takes time and is therefore uneven; in the meantime, some people gain and other people lose. In short, the counterfeiters and their local retailers have found their incomes increased before any rise in the prices of the things they buy. But, on the other hand, people in remote areas of the economy, who have not yet received the new money, find their buying prices rising before their incomes. Retailers at the other end of the country, for example, will suffer losses. The first receivers of the new money gain most, and at the expense of the latest receivers.
Inflation, then, confers no general social benefit; instead, it redistributes the wealth in favor of the first-comers and at the expense of the laggards in the race. And inflation is, in effect, a race–to see who can get the new money earliest.
Quantitative Easing and money creation certainly benefits Wall Street, but what does it do for the rest of the economy?
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