There is a reason I call this column Outside the Box. I try to get material that forces us to think outside our normal comfort zones and challenges our common assumptions. I have made the comment more than once that is it unusual for two major bubbles to burst and for the conversation to be all about rising inflation and not a serious problem with deflation.
As Niels Jensen pointed out last week, the most important question that an investor can ask is whether we are in for deflation or inflation. And this week we read a well reasoned piece on deflation. This is one of the more important essays I have sent out. You need to set aside some time to absorb this one.
Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt give us a few thoughts on why they think it is deflation that will ultimately be the problem and not inflation we are dealing with today. This week's letter requires you to think, but it will be worth the effort.
And let me quote a few sentences in the middle of this letter about taxes which you need to think about.
"Thus Barro and Perotti are saying that each $1 increase in government spending reduces private spending by about $1, with no net benefit to GDP. All that is left is a higher level of government debt creating slower economic growth."
"The most extensive research on tax multipliers is found in a paper written at the University of California Berkeley entitled The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes: Estimates Based on a new Measure of Fiscal Shocks, by Christina D. and David H. Romer (March 2007). (Christina Romer now chairs the president's Council of Economic Advisors). This study found that the tax multiplier is 3, meaning that each dollar rise in taxes will reduce private spending by $3."
Now, if you put all of the various inputs together, Hoisington and Hunt show that theory suggests we will soon be dealing with deflation. It's counter-intuitive to what we hear today, which is why the Bank for International Settlements used the stagflation word in a recent report. The transition that is coming will not be comfortable....
I have often commented about the problem of personal savings. We worry about the lack of savings here in the US, but many do not understand that if everyone started to save 5% of there income immediately that it would seriously impact consumer spending, pushing the US into a recession. It is a paradox, as Paul McCulley points out, that what may be good for the individual may not be good for the collective country.
And in this week's Outside the Box, good friend and this week's Maine fishing buddy Paul McCulley writes about another paradox called the Paradox of Deleveraging. This Paradox is at the heart of the credit crisis. Many of you will not like his conclusions, as it calls for the government to step into the breach created by the problem he describes. But as I often point out, the purpose of Outside the Box is to make us think about ideas which may not be in our usual sources of information. Paul is the Managing Director at PIMCO, the world's largest bond manager. (www.pimco.com for more information.)