After years of thinking about this, I have come up with a term that can describe the thoughts I have had about the new, 'good' type of deflation that is evading the notice of almost all of the top economists in the world today. This changes many of the most fundamental assumptions about economics, even as most economic thought is far behind the curve.
First, let us review some events that transpired over the last 2 years. To stave off the prospect of a deflationary spiral that could lead to a depression, the major governments of the world followed 20th-century textbook economics, and injected colossal amounts of liquidity into the financial system. In the US, not only was the Fed Funds rate lowered to nearly zero (for now 18 months and counting), but an additional $1 Trillion was injected in.
However, now that a depression has been averted, and the recession has ended, we were supposed to experience inflation even amidst high unemployment, just like we did in the 1970s, to minimize debt burdens. But alas, there is still no inflation, despite a yield curve with more than 3% steepness, and a near-0% FF rate for so long. How could this be? What is absorbing all the liquidity?
In The Impact of Computing, I discussed how 1.5% of World GDP today comprises of products where the same functionality can be purchased for a price that halves every 18 months. 'Moore's Law' applies to semiconductors, but storage, software, and some biotech are also on a similar exponential curve. This force makes productivity gains higher, and inflation lower, than traditional 20th century economics would anticipate. Furthermore, the second derivative is also increasing - the rate of productivity gains itself is accelerating. 1.5% of World GDP may be small, but what about when this percentage grows to 3% of World GDP? 5%? We may only be a decade away from this, and the impact of this technological deflation will be more obvious.
Most high-tech companies have a business model that incorporates a sort of 'bizarro force' that is completely the opposite of what old-economy companies operate under : The price of the products sold by a high-tech company decreases over time. Any other company will manage inventory, pricing, and forecasts under an assumption of inflationary price increases, but a technology company exists under the reality that all inventory depreciates very quickly (at over 10% per quarter in many cases), and that price drops will shrink revenues unless unit sales rise enough to offset it (and assuming that enough unit inventory was even produced). This results in the constant pressure to create new and improved products every few months just to occupy prime price points, without which revenues would plunge within just a year. Yet, high-tech companies have built hugely profitable businesses around these peculiar challenges, and at least 8 such US companies have market capitalizations over $100 Billion. 6 of those 8 are headquartered in Silicon Valley.
Now, here is the point to ponder : We have never had a significant technology sector while also facing the fears (warranted or otherwise) of high inflation. When high inflation vanished in 1982, the technology sector was too tiny to be considered a significant contributor to macroeconomic statistics. In an environment of high inflation combined with a large technology industry, however, major consumer retail pricepoints, such as $99.99 or $199.99, become more affordable. The same also applies to enterprise-class customers. Thus, demand creeps upwards even as cost to produce the products goes down on the same Impact of Computing curve. This allows a technology company the ability to postpone price drops and expand margins, or to sell more volume at the same nominal dollar price. Hence, higher inflation causes the revenues and/or margins of technology companies to rise, which means their earnings-per-share certainly surges.
So what we are seeing is the gigantic amount of liquidity created by the Federal Reserve is instead cycling through technology companies and increasing their earnings. The products they sell, in turn, increase productivity and promptly push inflation back down. Every uptick in inflation merely guarantees its own pushback, and the 1.5% of GDP that mops up all the liquidity and creates this form of 'good' deflation can be termed as the 'Technosponge'. So how much liquidity can the Technosponge absorb before saturation?
At this point, if the US prints another $1 Trillion, that will still merely halt deflation, and there will be no hint of inflation at all. It would take a full $2 Trillion to saturate the techno-sponge, and temporarily push consumer inflation to even the less-than-terrifying level of 4% while also generating substantial jumps in productivity and tech company earnings. In fact, the demographics of the US, with baby boomers reaching their geriatric years, are highly deflationary (and this is the bad type of deflation), so the US would have to print another $1 Trillion every year for the next 10 years just to offset demographic deflation, and keep the Technosponge saturated.
A Technosponge that is 1.5% of GDP might be keeping CPI inflation at under 2%, but when the techno-sponge is 3% of GDP, even trillions of dollars of liquidity won't halt deflation. Deflation may become normal, even as living standards and productivity rise at ever-increasing rates. The people who will suffer are holders of debt, particularly mortgage debt. Inflating away debt will no longer be a tool available to rescue people (and governments) from their errors. The biggest beneficiaries will be technology companies, and those who are tied to them.
But to keep prosperity rising, productivity has to rise at the maximum possible rate. This requires the Technosponge to be kept full at all times - the 'new normal'. Thus, the printing press has to start on the first $1 Trillion now, and printing has to continue until we see inflation. Economists will be surprised at how much can be printed without seeing any inflation, and will not be able to draw the connection about why the printed money is boosting productivity.