Okumura Jun has linked to Dr. Noah Smith's blog Noahpinion and it is a worthwhile read (Link). Dr. Smith is a rare Japan hand in the high stakes economics blogosphere, having lived in this blessed land for a number of years. Dr. Smith has some admirers in Japan, notably noted economics blogger Ikeda Nobuo, who has allowed Dr. Smith to post on his Agora site. (Link)
In his latest post on Japan's economy, "Should Japan Reflate?" Dr. Smith wonders whether it matters much if the monetary and fiscal policies of the Abe Cabinet trigger high levels of inflation or even hyperinflation. In his judgment, it would not. (Link)
I hesitate to agree with his conclusion.
While I have to agree with the self-evident statement that inflation destroys debt, which would be good for the economy, it would also destroy the value of bonds, which would be bad. Dr. Smith refers to such value destruction as a "tax" on elderly bondholders -- which it is in terms of outcomes. However, high or hyper-inflation would be dishonest taxation, one not vetted by an electoral test.
Inadvertently Dr. Smith's post highlights, rather than dismisses, the danger posed by the Abe government's enthusiasm for inflation. Dr. Smith claims that previous global incidences of hyperinflation have not been terribly damaging, at least from an economics standpoint (his use of Weimar Germany's hyperinflation as an example of a benign result tests my patience. As I remember, the collapse of faith in the Weimar government had a decidedly negative political outcome). As is often noted, almost all of Japan's debt is held by Japanese investors and institutions. What this means is that if inflation takes off, Japanese creditors get torched. This is completely different from the Latin American hyperinflations, where economic irresponsibility burned overseas bondholders as much as domestic ones (Argentina defaults and Italian pensioners are ruined, in the most recent example). High or hyper-inflation in this latter case is like lighting a stick of dynamite, throwing it, getting knocked down by the shockwave, then picking oneself up grinning, saying, "Whew, that was fun!" In the Japanese case, with Japanese on both sides of the creditor-debtor divide, inflation is like lighting a stick of dynamite, then holding on to it.
Not so fun.
Later - Dr. Smith replies in Comments.
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