Why We’re Poorer: Inflation and Deflation Are Now Globalized

We’re being hit with a double-whammy: Wages are under deflationary pressure, and almost everything else is exposed to inflationary pressure.

As correspondent Mark G. observed in Globalization = Permanent Instability, it’s impossible to understand inflation and deflation now except in a global context.

Now that prices for commodities such as oil and grain are set on the global market, local surpluses don’t push prices down. If North America has record harvests of grain, on a national basis we’d expect prices to fall as local supply exceeds local demand.

But since grain is tradable, i.e. it can be shipped to other markets where demand and thus prices are much higher, the price in North America reflects supply and demand everywhere on the planet, not just in North America.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of a farmer or grain wholesaler, this is a boon: why sell your product for 1X locally, when it fetches 2X in other countries? You’d be crazy not to put it on a boat and get double the price elsewhere.

As the share of the economy exposed to digitization increases, so does the share of work that can be done anywhere on the planet. When work is digitized, it is effectively commoditized, meaning that it no longer matters who performs the work or where they live.

If people in countries with low wages can perform the work, why on Earth would you pay double to have high-wage people do the work? It makes no sense. Taking advantage of the differences in local pay scales is called labor arbitrage, as the employer is trading on (i.e. arbitraging) two sets of prices.

It’s not just labor that can be arbitraged: currency, interest rates, risk, environmental regulations, commodities–huge swaths of the global economy can be arbitraged.

The basic idea of the global carry trade is to borrow money cheaply in a currency that’s weakening and use the money to buy low-risk, high-yield assets in currencies that are gaining in relative value….


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