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Why inflation might actually be good for the economy

July 15, 2021, 10:00 PM UTC
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Bankers and investors are afraid of inflation, but it actually helps the tens of millions struggling with debt, writes Morris Pearl.
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With inflation on the rise, President Biden’s critics are blaming his economic policies and investors and economists are concerned. But for all the worries that the prospect of inflation seems to strike in the hearts of some observers, most Americans have nothing to fear from moderate levels of inflation. In fact, many Americans, particularly the less wealthy, actually stand to benefit from higher levels of inflation.

I spent most of my career on Wall Street at BlackRock working on risk assessment. In the aftermath of the 2007–08 financial crisis, I helped banks, governments, and private companies assess their level of risk. 

Some things that may seem especially risky are not really risks. When I look at our economy today, inflation is one of those things. There is virtually no reason for us to be extremely worried about inflation right now, especially when it comes with an under-discussed upside for tens of millions of struggling Americans.

All of the evidence we’ve seen so far in 2021 shows that wages are steadily rising as businesses reopen and Americans reenter the workforce. Faced with the prospect of the real value of their debt shrinking and their wages rising at pace with inflation, more Americans than you would think stand to gain from higher inflation rates.

If you are paying a mortgage or have any other large form of debt, like a student loan, inflation is good for you. Your mortgage payment does not change at all, but the house goes up in value, and you get all of the benefit, even though you only paid the down payment on the house. Your income goes up typically a tiny bit more than inflation, but a major part of your expenses do not go up, leaving you with more money to either save or spend.

On the other hand, if you are a bank or an investor and you lend money to people and collect their mortgage payments, inflation might be bad for you, because you need to pay more to your workers without receiving any additional revenue.

But, this group of people is substantially smaller than those with significant debt. The bottom half of Americans combined actually have a negative net worth, with more total debt than wealth. Bankers and investors, however, hold a disproportionate sway over the economists, analysts, and business news anchors who review economic trends. 

This isn’t to say that we should be aiming for more inflation. But the steps that are being recommended to avoid inflation are more detrimental to everyday working people than ultra-high inflation itself. If we have to choose between 4% inflation combined with $2 trillion in additional federal infrastructure spending, or 2% inflation and no infrastructure bill, the first option seems obviously better for almost all Americans.

Let’s be clear—that’s not a choice we even know we have to make. Economists crying doomsday over inflation have been saying the same thing for decades, and they’ve been wrong every time. The truth is, we can likely have our cake and eat it too.

The interests of Wall Street bankers and investors who are pushing for policies that lead to less inflation should not be given higher priority over the majority of American people who are in desperate need of relief as we make our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We can all agree that a stable dollar value is a crucial part of the American economy’s viability. But there’s no compelling reason for us to limit our recovery efforts just to avoid an insignificant number of inflation percentage points that could actually help those in need of financial support. 

Morris Pearl is chair of Patriotic Millionaires and former managing director at BlackRock. He is the author of Tax the Rich: How Lies, Loopholes, and Lobbyists Make the Rich Even Richer.

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