“It can’t happen here”

The Federal Reserve printed $4 trillion in the years following the 2008 crash, expanding its pre-crisis balance sheet of about $900 billion to roughly $4.5 trillion. Many people thought, if hyperinflation were ever going to happen in the U.S., it would have already.

Well, it never happened. Today, in response to the pandemic and the economic lockdowns that followed, the Fed has cranked up the printing press to even higher levels. It’s printed almost as much money in one year as it printed in the several years after the financial crisis.

On February 26, 2020, the balance sheet was $4.16 trillion. Less than one year later, it’s roughly $7.3 trillion. Meanwhile, America’s M1 money supply spiked 70% last year.

But this blizzard of money-printing has not caused the level of alarm that the post-financial crisis money creation caused. If we didn’t get the hyperinflation then, they say, why should we get it now? Most people are complacent.

They have a point. We still have no hyperinflation or even moderate inflation (except maybe in asset prices).

But I’ve even argued that we won’t see inflation right away. Inflation is not only a product of money creation but also of money velocity. You can print as much money as you want, but if it’s not exchanging hands and there isn’t much turnover, it won’t lead to inflation.

Inflation is at least as much a psychological phenomenon as a monetary phenomenon. And expectations right now are for disinflation.

Because of the lockdowns and their economic fallout, we will likely suffer a recession in the first quarter of 2021. Money velocity is low, so disinflation is the problem in the short term. But that doesn’t mean inflation isn’t coming back or even that hyperinflation isn’t possible once it does.

Inflation will return, and when it does, it could be massive and potentially lead to hyperinflation. All this can happen faster than most people think.

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