The government forecasts rising price inflation as measured by the Retail Price Index in the middle of this decade, following a further decline this year.
I regularly warned about too much inflation in recent years, and disagreed with the Bank of England. They were unable to see the inflationary consequences of their policies, which duly led to well above target price rises. More recently I have agreed with them that inflation would fall this year, as the VAT increases dropped out of the figures and as we got some respite from the falling pound.
So it has turned out. Inflation has fallen a bit as hoped. Whilst the official government forecasts say that target inflation, (2% on the CPI) will be just fine for the next few years, I think we do need to worry whether this is true. Could the official RPI forecasts be nearer the mark? Could the CPI also rise more than they think in later years?
This week we have been hit by further pressure on pump prices for diesel and petrol. Meanwhile, the near monopoly postal service, still in state hands, has decided on an enormous increase in prices. We are being made to pay for the decline in traditional mail volumes, and for the continuing inefficiencies of the monopoly service. The price rise is so high that there could be a sharp fall in volume of use, once the favourable effects of pre buying of stamps at the old prices wears off.
The post item is a one off and a small component of the general price indices. It is, however, a reminder that because the state still is heavily involved in our economic life, there remains plenty of monopoly pricing power that can be deployed against customers and taxpayers. We may see it in car parking charges from Councils, in licence fees, in energy taxes, in public transport fares, in Council taxes from next year. If at the same time world monetary looseness drives up commodity prices, and UK money operations encourage a lower pound, we could find that inflation once again outperforms the Bank’s forecasts and targets. We may also be entering a period when the Chinese and other producers of cheap export goods for us want fairer prices for what they make.
The government needs to remember that high inflation in its first two years of office has depressed living standards. Fuel and energy prices have become central political issues, as they above all else have squeezed family budgets. The government should pursue a more energetic competition policy to break up monopoly power and allow new competitors in crucial services. It should also want the Bank to be vigilant about inflation, after such a long period of letting it be well above target. With all that Quantitativbe Easing money out there, as the banks do mend so there could be a surge of credit leading to more inflation. That is not today’s problem, or even tomorrow’s, but the Bank should be thinking well ahead to what can happen. The government itself now forecasts higher inflation and higher house price inflation in due course. They could be right.
Inflation is theft by other means. It may not even be smart theft. Whilst it does erode the real amount the government has to pay back to those who saved and lent it money, as we saw over the last two years it can also depress demand and lead to the need for yet more borrowing. The recent inflation has depressed spending power and impeded recovery.