Friday, April 11, 2008

Another Big Lie: The Money Supply

One of the big dumb statistics that economists mull over is the money supply. The money supply is what it sounds like it is: how much money is running around out there. Actually, some of that money is not running around, it's just stuffed under mattresses or behind the cushions of your sofa. Go take a look. But the vast majority of money is circulating around out there doing useful stuff. Even sitting in your bank account it's being loaned out to do stuff.

The money supply is one of those really big numbers, the kind of number they like to amaze people with. "If you stacked that many dollar bills on top of each other, it would reach Mars", etc. The relevant issue here is that the amount of dollars running around out there is the main determinant of inflation. When the government spews more money into the system, inflation is guaranteed to go up. There will be a slight lag between the actual spewing and a measurable increase in inflation, since it takes a bit of time for the stuff to diffuse out into the system. But that's a good thing because it gives us a little bit of warning ahead of time.

But there is no warning if they don't tell us about it. Read on.

There are several components that are used to describe the US money supply, labeled "M0" to "M3". Briefly, M0 is cash, M1 is M0 plus checking accounts, M2 is M1 plus savings accounts and smaller money-market accounts, and M3 is M2 plus the really big institutional accounts. M3 is the broadest measure of the number of US dollars in existence right now. As such, it is directly related to the inflation level.

Here's the Big Lie: The government has stopped publishing M3 data.

Discontinuance of M3

So in this day and age of virtually zero-cost collection and distribution of vast amounts of financial information, it has become too expensive to publish *a number*?!


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