Is The Energy Transition Inflationary?

This is an assertion made by economist Roger Bootle. Two decades ago he argued the opposite, in The Death of Inflation: Surviving and Thriving in the Zero Era. But now the founder of Capital Economics regards, “the environmental emphasis and in particular the drive towards net-zero” as the single biggest factor pushing inflation higher.

The Administration’s ready embrace of deficit spending to finance a laundry list of progressive Democrat priorities is one source of inflation. Negotiations with Congressional Republicans over an infrastructure plan appear to be stalling, which will result in another enormous round of spending approved by reconciliation so as to avoid a Senate filibuster.

Stephanie Kelton gave us the fiscal policy blueprint in The Deficit Myth (see our review here). Because the government can’t default in its own currency, any amount of spending is good until it’s inflationary. The corollary is that spending to fix everything is inadequate until it’s inflationary. This includes financing the energy transition. Democrats have embraced her ethos with enthusiasm.

In a narrow sense, inflation can be defined as price increases in excess of the utility provided. When workers received a 5% pay increase with no change in output per worker (i.e. Improved productivity), that became the 1970s definition of inflation in Britain’s union-ravaged economy. It seems straightforward when applied to labor, but prices of all kinds of goods and services rise without causing an inflationary spiral. College tuition and healthcare defy gravity, but in the past year commodity inflation has become widespread too.

Copper is an example. Goldman Sachs estimates that an electric vehicle requires five times as much copper wiring as an internal combustion engine, and a 3-megawatt wind turbine (enough to power around 800 homes) uses up to 4.7 tonnes of the metal. Electrification of everything is central to the energy transition, which has pushed copper prices to the highest in a decade. Oddly, this isn’t yet stimulating increased investment in new production, which on current trends will drop by half over the next five years.

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Disclosure: We are invested in all the components of the American Energy Independence Index via the ETF that ...

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