Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ross: Is Inflation Theft?

In the middle of the night someone breaks in your house, finds and steals some of your cash, leaving you able to buy less stuff. In the middle of the night the government prints a bunch of new money and cause prices to rise, and as a result you are not able to buy as much stuff with your money. The former scenario is theft, and some argue passionately that the inflationary scenario is also theft.

For someone to steal from you, you must have property rights over that object that entitles you the right to exclusive use. The problem with the “inflation is theft” argument is that it requires a claim of property rights to a pecuniary value of an object. However, greenbacks only represent a claim on U.S. goods, services, and assets. They do not represent a claim for you to be able to receive two candy bars or an hour of parking for every dollar you posses.

Free marketer’s do not usually make this error in other domains. If someone were to claim a right to be paid as much or more for their house as what they paid for it, they would be correctly reminded that their purchase only granted them rights to the house and property, not to any pecuniary value of the home. In my view, the "inflation is theft" crowd make this error.

Claudia, Matt, and Will weigh in on the subject.


Josh Hall said...

Nicely put. Similar to the Holcombe and Sobel pecuniary externality argument.

Josh Hall said...

You should write this up in a short note or something.

KipEsquire said...

If anything, inflation is more akin to fraud than theft.

Matt Wolf said...

fraud is theft through deception

Matt Wolf said...

To reiterate our long discussion this evening, I think this really depends on your definition theft or fraud.

I think we agree that government induced inflation is "immoral". Given the immorality, I think we can agree that the government is initiating force against those who have holdings in dollars or who have fixed income streams in us dollars.

This initiation of force, in my opinion can be defined as theft, and or fraud(theft through deception).

First, government is only a concept, in the same way a "corporation" is. The government in a sense does not actually exist as you can not point to a person and say "there, that is the government". Only people exist, and a collection of people call themselves government and thus seize power with the collective threat of force.

Inflationary policy set by one person, or a group of persons results in some people being better off at the expense of those who have holdings in cash. Those with cash holding or fixed income streams have lost something. They have not lost "money" but have lost purchasing power. The money itself is not what is being taken, but the value of the exchange of their monetary holdings.

To summarize, what we are seeing is a theft of purchasing power, or a fraud being committed (theft by deception) by individuals calling themselves the government. Are people deceiving into holding US dollars back by the full faith and credit of the us government (which has incidentally reduced in purchasing power by 25% in the past 10 years)?

(not spell checked, sorry)