April 29, 2008

Inflation - Biggest of all demon

Soaring food prices but it's not just food prices and rice in particular whose prices are heating the roof. All other commodities used by society in day to day life has become dearer. It can be that seen that Inflation in most of the countries are running high these days in mid 2008. Let's see India for example and count the steps the govt and central bank is taking to contain inflation. You will find similar reports coming from China and other economies of similar size like Russia and Latin America. Ideas and measures that have been taken by these economies and discussed below can be extended to other similar developing and under developed economies.
1) Letting the local currency appreciate if it is not pegged. It is hoped that this will allow imports to become cheaper as the local currency will appreciate. This is supposed have some cooling effect on the soaring prices. This has been helpful to keep the price rise of imported items low but general public may not be able to feel it as most of Asian economies is highest impacted by crude oil only in the list of items to be imported and crude oil is already subsidized by most of these government. This option can not be used by China and similar economies whose currencies have been pegged against standard currency like USD or EURO or similar basket of currencies.
2) Raising CRR instead of raising Repo or Reverse Repo rates. Most of the economies in region prior to the sub prime bust in US and food problem were registering robust economic growth. This was leading to good poverty eradication in those economies. Though the distribution of newly generated wealth from booming economy was not evenly distributed which was another problem to be addressed in order to stop future social division. Still wealth was flowing into the economy and standard of life was going up. So political brass is very sensitive against killing the growth story the economy was registering. This is leading the government and central bank to raise CRR as a result trying to suck money out of circulation. Thinking of money as another commodity means lesser availability of it will make it costly. So less of this commodity[money] would lead to buy more of other commodity[Rice and other food items]. At least increase in interest rates were done lot more cautiously as it was certain that killing the growth story of the economy means being thrown out of power in next elections/voting.
Seen a report in Indian newspaper reporting increase of CRR.
3) Raising Deposit rates. Economies like China and similar economies where political stability is virtually guaranteed and there are very little if any chances of govt being overthrown have used this option very frequently. This option compared to hiking the CRR leads to controlling the inflation much sooner. More ever China GDP growth rate has been very high and there was worries about government to cool off the economy and avoid over heating. So this mechanism works well for Chinese economy.
4) Removal of duties and banning exports or levying high taxes for exports. Most of economies which import edibles to feed their population had certain duties in place for import. Since then in order to contain inflation and making these items come in more to the country at a cheaper cost government and authorities have abolished the duties or reduced it to bare minimum. This has not been very helpful for all food items but have certainly been helpful for certain food items and commodities like Metals. Reason for this not working for all food items is that economies which were exporting these commodities have banned exports in order to be more cautious and to ensure supply in the local economy in future. In cases where banning exports completely was not feasible because of local of international equations high export taxes have been slapped.
5) Price control by government instead of market determined price for certain commodities. In certain economies government has moved to the extent of fixing the prices of certain food items and commodities like metals to keep the inflation in control. Though these are not prudent measures at all and if last longer than endurance limit of the economy[This again depends upon how robust the economy is] will lead closure of businesses and if it is government control then fiscal deficit ultimately leading to currency devaluation. This is again calling for higher inflation. For weak economies with poor democratic roots and head strong government and authorities these can even lead of hyper inflation causing even more pain to the consumers and producers of the economy.
Many political and economic leaders have been crying foul that problem is emanating because of supply side constraints. Over time demand for these commodities have been increasing either because of population growth world over or because of increasing life standard around the world. So if it is a supply side problem then there are only two solutions :-
A) Increase supply. This would call for more focus and investment in R&D by the economies. Given the current money supply which government have been tightening it will not be an easy thing to do. How ever going through and enduring the hardship in planned and sustained manner is the solution to these kind of systemic problem economies face.
Bring back the resources which have been diverted towards other causes back. There has been an report by UN slamming developed world for doing this and throwing the entire world into this chaos. Developed world have to give and donate and help in the human cause to eradicate poverty world over and improve standard of living in poorer economies.
Additionally some unscrupulous element in the market who are in involved in hoarding. There idea is to make some money to sell later inflation will cause prices of these commodities to rise. Though most of the economies have rules against such practices but corruption makes the implementation more difficult to implement them. As has been traditionally seen Corruption is normally higher in poorer economies.
B) Reduce demand. All the consumers have to give up part of their non essential consumption even if it is affordable for them. This will lead to reduce demand for those items and reduced price. This will allow these resources to be diverted back to produce more essential commodities and increasing their supply.
Other option is teaching common about birth control in poorer economies. This will certainly means in long term demand will decrease and consumers would be reduced.

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