„Greedflation”: weder in den Daten noch in der Theorie

Wer ist schuld an der Inflation? Klar, nichts liegt näher, als die gierigen Unternehmen dafür verantwortlich zu machen. In der Volkswirtschaftslehre ist ein richtiger Twitter-Kampf zu diesem Thema ausgebrochen. Etablierte Ökonomen wie Rüdiger Bachmann treten gegen junge Stars an, konkret gegen Isabella M. Weber, die von den Medien gefeiert wird, nachdem sie mit der These auftrat, wir hätten es mit „Greedflation“ zu tun. Das Magazin „The New Yorker“ schrieb einen Jubelartikel, der sich über weite Strecken nicht mit der Realität deckt und sogar von der Wirtschaftsweise Veronika Grimm scharf kritisiert wurde.

Der Blogger Noah Smith nimmt den Artikel in einem Beitrag gründlich auseinander. Darin geht er auch auf die Argumente für die „Greedflation“ ein und aus diesem Teil kommen jetzt einige Auszüge. Sehr überzeugend:

  • „(…)Weber is a proponent of the idea of ‚greedflation‘. Her paper with Wasner has a theory of what that means, and how it’s supposed to work. The theory is basically game-theoretic — it relies on ideas about strategic interactions between companies that end up causing inflation at the macro level. But because the game structure is not explicitly specified, it’s difficult to tell exactly how Weber thinks the strategic interaction is working.“ – bto: Es ist schon witzig, wenn Menschen, die noch nie in Unternehmen waren, deren Entscheidungsprozesse modellieren. Aber das ist ein anderes Thema…
  • „For example, on p. 189, Weber writes: Firms do not lower prices, as doing so may spark a price war. Firms compete over market shares, but if they lower prices to gain territory from other firms, they must expect their competitors to respond by lowering their prices in turn. This can result in a race to the bottom which destroys profitability in the industry. Price wars are very risky for firms that are already in the market and are therefore typically launched by new entrants.“ – bto: Also: Jede Firma, die die Preise senkt, gewinnt zunächst Marktanteile. Wenn es auf einer überlegenen Kostenstruktur basiert, ist es eine erfolgversprechende Strategie. Diese wird nicht nur von neuen Anbietern verfolgt, aber auch. Es ist deshalb auch normal, dass wir es mit einer deflationären Tendenz zu tun haben. Preise würden eigentlich wegen der Produktivitätsfortschritte über Zeit fallen.
  • „This leaves me with many questions. Do Weber and Wasner think incumbent firms never lower prices? (That’s obviously wrong.) Or do they just not lower prices in specific situations? What’s different about the situations where firms refuse to lower prices? What does it mean to ‚gain territory‘ from other firms, and how does that work? Where does the ‚race to the bottom‘ end? And so on. Mainstream economists specify the answers to these questions by writing out strategic interactions explicitly in the form of game theory; this approach certainly has its drawbacks, but at least it allows the reader to start to think about how to falsify or confirm the theory being presented.“ – bto: Es hat eben viel mit der Frage nach den Kosten zu tun.
  • Weber and Wasner cite A) a number of economists from the early 20th century, whose observations of markets she claims to have distilled, and B) recent earnings calls by a few public corporations. I would not label this support ‚crap‘, but neither do I believe that it’s sufficient to support the assertions about how strategic pricing interactions work. Sraffa, Kalecki, Galbraith, Robinson, etc. were all very smart people, and I am sure their close observations of firm behavior were useful and carefully made. But they were working decades ago, without the benefit of modern empirical data collection methods and analysis techniques; a lot of important work on strategic interaction between companies has been done since the 1950s, and I think Weber and Wasner should take it into account. The strategic landscape businesses face may have changed as well.“ – bto: Hinzukommt, dass wir in der Tat in einigen Märkten Probleme mit der Konzentration haben, das hat aber mehr mit dem Preisniveau (überhöht), als mit der Veränderung zu tun.
  • Analysts at the French investment bank Société Général and the European Central Bank now take much of Weber’s analysis for granted. Do they? Both of the analyses Carter cites show only that profits have risen as prices have risen. For example, the ECB’s post shows a chart decomposing EU price hikes into profit increases, wage increases, and taxes, and productivity changes. In recent months, profits have accounted for about half of the change:“ – bto: Das bedeutet, dass die Unternehmen lediglich versucht haben, ihre Margen zu verteidigen, was sich mit den Erkenntnissen des Ifo-Instituts deckt.


  • But this is merely an accounting exercise; it doesn’t tell us what caused what, or how. As so often in this debate, the ‚greedflation‘ proponents take correlation as proof of causation.“ – bto: Das wäre nicht das erste Mal.
  • Und dann zitiert er die EZB: Inflation in the euro area has been high recently, mainly because of a surge in energy prices. Since the euro area imports more than half of the energy it uses and energy has become much more expensive, households and firms have lost real income. This has been made worse by supply chain problems which have also driven up import prices. In such a situation, firms have an incentive to try to minimise their share of the burden by raising their prices in order to protect their profit margins. Producers in some sectors might even try to increase their margins over and above what would be justified by higher input costs to also fully recoup previous real income losses from the various shocks of the past three years. Another motivation could be the attempt to build buffers in an environment of high uncertainty.“ – bto: Das klingt jetzt irgendwie anders und nicht so, als würden die Unternehmen die Inflation befeuern.
  • One of these potential explanations — protecting profit margins — is similar to what Weber and Wasner describe in their paper (I think). But the other two — recouping earlier losses or building buffers against uncertainty — are not. So Carter’s assertion that the ECB now takes ‚much of Weber’s analysis for granted‘ is unsupported. Instead, they list a variety of possible mechanisms.“ – bto: Carter ist der Autor des Artikels von The New Yorker, an dem er sich hier (zu recht!) abarbeitet.
  • Carter also writes: Weber’s fundamental point that corporate profits are a key driver of today’s inflation is now openly embraced by the establishment on multiple continents. Researchers at the Kansas City Federal Reserve recently concluded that corporate price markups may have accounted for more than half of the inflation experienced by the U.S. in 2021.“ – bto: Jetzt wird es interessant: Eine Studie der Kansas City Fed beweist also, dass es die Unternehmen waren, die die Preise getrieben haben.
  • Doch, stimmt das? Noah Smith entlarvt Carter als jemanden, der Studien nicht gründlich liest: „But it does not appear that Carter has closely read the Kansas City Fed paper that he cites as support for Weber’s theories. Here are some excerpts from that paper: [O]ne potential [inflation] explanation that has received significant public attention is ‚greedflation‘—that is, the idea that firms are capitalizing on their market power by raising their prices higher and faster than the growth in their production costs…We present evidence that the timing and cross-industry patterns of markup growth are more consistent with firms raising prices in anticipation of future cost increases, rather than an increase in monopoly power or higher demand…“ – bto: Es geht also um die Verteidigung von Margen, nicht um Gier.
  • Und weiter: „Therefore, inflation cannot be explained by a persistent increase in market power after the pandemic. Second, if monopolists raising prices in the face of higher demand were driving markup growth, we would expect firms with larger increases in current demand to have accordingly larger markups. Instead, markup growth was similar across industries that experienced very different levels of demand (and inflation) in 2021.“ – bto: Klar, die Unternehmen mit mehr Nachfrage sollten das eher ausnutzen. Wenn sie das nicht getan haben, ist das schon eher eine Überraschung!
  • Although markup growth was high in 2021, the evidence from the previous section casts doubt on the simple explanation of ‚greedflation‘, understood as either an increase in monopoly power or firms using existing power to take advantage of high demand. Instead, this evidence may be consistent with an alternative explanation: that firms are raising markups in the present to smooth price increases they expect in the future. Indeed, both the hump shape of aggregate markup growth and similarity in markup growth across industries arise naturally in standard macroeconomic models.bto: Das leuchtet wiederum ein.
  • In other words, the Kansas City Fed paper presents evidence against Weber’s claim that market power is responsible for increased inflation, and instead concludes that ‚standard macroeconomic models‘ account for what’s going on. This is exactly the opposite of what Carter claims in his New Yorker article!“ – bto: Ich finde es ja gut zu sehen, dass es nicht nur bei uns in den Medien so ist…
  • In any case, the lack of a clear theory of the how ‚greedflation‘ works, along with the general lack of evidence in favor of the idea, is yet another reason why Carter’s triumphalism is very premature.“ – bto: Es ist eine Nebelbombe aus einer bestimmten politischen Richtung.
  • On price controls and the whole ‚greedflation‘ idea, I simply think we’re just nowhere near even that initial glimmer of paradigm shift yet. (…) as thoughtful and smart as Isabella Weber and other proponents of the idea may be, we are very far from being able to justify the sort of triumphalist language that Zachary Carter employs in his New Yorker article. That article’s numerous mischaracterizations of inflation data, policy specifics, and research results show that it is driven more by narrative than by a hard reading of the facts.“ – bto: Boom.

noahpinion.blog: “Price controls: Too early for a victory lap”, 9. Juni 2023