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Sugar High - Is Inflation Coming???

April 28, 2021

The country, and probably the world, has not seen this much government intervention or increased bank deposits (M2 up 27%) in the financial system since at least WWII.  This has led us to the age-old rules of supply and demand - a large supply of cash in the system creates demand for goods.  Go and try to buy a washing machine, or refrigerator, or a fishing rod for goodness sake - if you have a few months to wait you might get one of these items. So is inflation on the way?  Absolutely, it is here in many areas of the Consumer Price Index (CPI).  In the past year oil is up 89%, lumber is up 300%, corn up 70%, aluminum up 56%.  However, this is not the entire story.  Technology improvements tend to be deflationary because it takes less people to do the same job as technology innovates (see Henry Ford).  Driverless cars will eliminate the need for manned cabs or Uber.  Over the long haul, automation is much less expensive than a human.  There is no health care, no raises, no vacation or sick days.  As minimum wages increase, it will make more sense for employers in minimum wage type jobs to bring in robots to do the jobs humans used to do (if you can even find workers:  due to COVID and unemployment benefits EVERY restaurant in our area has help wanted signs.  Heck it has already started: South Florida Restaurant Buys Robots).  There is no reason a McDonalds needs humans flipping burgers.  Customers can go to a kiosk, punch in their order, the robots make the order, and deliver it up front (or more likely the drive-thru) - all this with one or two human “managers” watching the shop.  So short-term we will see inflation in certain parts of the market, but longer-term technology innovation will create deflation in other parts.  So net/net in 10 years we may actually see overall CPI deflation, only time will tell. 


The flip side of innovation is that it is extremely disruptive to societal norms.  Maybe a better way to look at this is it changes societal norms, which seem disruptive during the time but become normalized over the long term.  However, technology is changing at such a rapid pace that we are having a hard time adapting as a society.  We had hundreds of years to digest the printing press, and even that was extremely disruptive to social norms (the printing press allowed Martin Luther to distribute his 95 theses across Germany changing the entire Christian Church!).  The rise of social media - allowing anyone in the world to post their views and conspiracies (or vacation photos) to everyone else in the world - has created this embittered and entitled world we currently live in.  Bottom line - technology makes the world easier for us to live in long term, but makes us crazy(er) as we live with it and decide how to accept it.  The big question is:  Will we adapt to this constant change or will it tear us apart?